On Mother’s Day I wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors expressing my concern about groundwater management, especially in the west side of Tehama County where I live. In the last two years I have seen a transformation of many large parcels in the west side go from traditional range lands to huge irrigated orchards. New agricultural wells are popping up all around us.
The right to farm does not come with a right to deplete groundwater unsustainably.
According to the expert for the Groundwater Sustainability Plans — in Tehama County there are four subbasins, each requiring a GSP — there are approximately 6,000 acres of land, mainly rangeland around seasonal creeks, that may yet be converted to crops. Tehama County is developing GSPs because our groundwater has been depleting in an unsustainable way for at least a decade.
The conversion from rangeland to crops, mainly fruit and nut orchards, is happening with astonishing speed, ahead of the development of sustainability planning.
This year so far, 21 ag well permits have been submitted. On average, in recent years, around 40 ag wells per year are installed. The cumulative affect of all this development is not sustainable.
Upper aquifers take several wet years to bounce back. The deep groundwater takes much, much longer to replenish. Agricultural wells dip into the deep aquifer, and that affects the upper aquifer because groundwater is connected.
Tehama County needs an alternative to spending time and money on groundwater sustainability mismanagement.
The GSP development is starting to identify Management Objectives and Management Thresholds and trying to figure out measures that Tehama County will take when thresholds are passed and objectives are not being met.
It is common sense that the key issue is, and will be, the hundreds of acre feet of groundwater that new agricultural wells pump.
The management for sustainable groundwater use, which California law is requiring, will be much easier if the BOS applies a moratorium on new agricultural wells now.
Tehama County does not yet know the effect the recently approved agricultural wells will have on groundwater resources for domestic wells and established orchards. It makes sense, given the questionable sustainability of groundwater in the present, to stop approving new agricultural wells until we know the effect of the ones recently approved.
We know that already the groundwater is being used unsustainably. In times of drought and with this knowledge of our groundwater, it is irresponsible for the county to keep approving, in a non-discretionary manner, new agriculture wells which will each extract many acre-feet of groundwater for decades.
By approving more ag wells, in the face of unsustainable use of groundwater, Tehama County is opening itself up to lawsuits, as resident wells sputter and die. Domestic wells are expected to go dry, as the MO and MT discussions for the GSPs are about how many domestic well failures are acceptable before management actions are taken.
Tehama County, residents, and farmers should be concerned about the GSP process because it is really about the growth of the use of groundwater resources, which cannot grow.
The BOS should enact a moratorium on new ag wells, to remain in effect until groundwater use is shown to be sustainable for a decade, with groundwater levels rising such that Tehama County’s water budget can afford new agricultural wells.
If the BOS decides not to act, everyone will have to share in the high costs of trying to keep expanding agriculture. Since groundwater, at the present time, is being pumped unsustainably, it is highly irresponsible and unacceptable for the County to keep approving new ag wells.
A moratorium on new agricultural wells seems like an impossible idea in a county that promotes the right to farm; however, it’s time.
— Robin Huffman, Corning
Printed on May 20, 2021 in the Red Bluff Daily News Letter: Ag well moratorium needed
Robin Huffman resides in Tehama County, since relocating from Paradise, California after losing her home to the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.