Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Board of Supervisors Meeting 10/29/13

Water drop

Water drop (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Vance Kennedy

There has been widespread discussion of groundwater problems in the foothills.  The question seems to be “what to do about it”?  Major damage to some smaller property owners is occurring right now and that can be a complete loss of value of home and property, simply because adjacent large plantings of almonds are taking their groundwater.  An estimate of that property loss would be highly appropriate in your investigation.  Legal costs to defend these small properties are simply too expensive to individuals and are prolonged.

You have the police power to stop abuses.  Please use that power as soon as possible.  An immediate moratorium, like that in San Louis Obispo County would be very appropriate…but then what?

A rapid estimate of the problem could be made with existing knowledge by county employees, hydrologists and farmers, using present orchard records and detailed data on approved wells, plus planned almond planting and wells.  That would be a guide.

Rainfall in the low foothills is on the order of 12 inches per year.  Half may reach the water table.  Minimum irrigation needs of almond trees is estimated at 30 inches per year.  Thus, at least 2 feet of water is needed, in addition to rain.  That must come from groundwater, since there is no other source.  Because the pore space in rocks holding available water is roughly 15% (plus or minus 5%), every foot of pumped groundwater should drop the water perhaps 8 feet.  That equals 16 feet per year.  If the water table drops significantly less than that, it means that groundwater is flowing laterally underground to the well from ones’ neighbors and depleting the overall groundwater supply.  That would not be surprising, since lateral movement of groundwater is well known to be much easier than vertical movement.

There is a legal term known as “prescriptive rights”, whereby, if water is taken wrongly, and no objections occur, then at some point in time the right to object is lost.  Since there is no groundwater law in California, the time for a prescriptive right is unknown, but could conceivably be quite short.  You can control that.

A rough estimate of the magnitude of the water problem in the foothills can be made in a week.  Not a year or two, if people use reasonable estimates, as described.  There is certainly enough understanding of the problem by employees of the local irrigation districts to make valid estimates of the problem.  I cannot overstate the need to act now on requiring environmental impacts on properties adjacent to wells.  Also, grand-fathering in of continuing harmful practices absolutely must be avoided.

While I am up here, I would like to put in a plug once again for an influential county/city committee to look at the truly long term needs by our local society for food and water.  Some members of this area seem determined to make the central valley another silicon valley.  that would truly be a local and national disaster.  I believe the average local citizen is concerned but does not know how to register that concern with the decision makers.  A prominent committee could help


I would like to put in a plea that you folks approve the proposed rules on export of groundwater today.  I understand from highly reliable sources that this sort of problem was recognized at least 10 years ago and ignored.  If it had been addressed then we would probably not have the present problems.  There is a phrase to “kick the can down the road” that has been applicable in the past.  Please do not do it in this case.  If there are major unexpected problems with the rules, there is no reason why they cannot be changed in the future.

The county does need a water expert on its staff, who has legal advice available.  Neither the city or county has a lawyer knowledgeable in water precedents….I have asked.  given the tremendous importance of water at present, and even more so in the future, it is imperative that the county have such advice readily available, the sooner the better.

Rumor has it that 40% of natural river flow will be kept for the fish in the future.  Meanwhile, the state requires major increases in housing by the city.  It seems obvious that truly great water challenges lie ahead and that does not even consider potential global warming.


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2 thoughts on “Board of Supervisors Meeting 10/29/13

  1. Eric and Vance Thank you so much for your reporting on this ,
    the numbers are very enlightening.
    I will continue to confront my county supervisor to ignore his own financial interest in farming operations and make law to regulate
    “no growth based on ground water pumping”
    Brad Johnson

  2. Emerson Drake, a pillar of truth! I hope your articles are viewed by a multitude of residents and farmers.

    It appears to me that the farmers east of Oakdale care about their bottom line and not about water conservation. Planting trees or vineyards is great when there is ample water to grow them AND provide water to residents….at the same time. I say us residents shouldn’t have to buy bottled water to shower and drink while farmers take away our finite underground source of water to irrigate their trees so they can make a profit! Uh, guys how ya gonna act? I say humans take precedence over trees and profits! Those farmers out there in rural Oakdale read the papers. They know there’s a water shortage and still DRILL THE HECK OUT OF THE AQUIFER with complete disregard for us humans who use water too. Well, enter the County Supervisors, you human guys need to step forward. You need to write up some laws and penalties to protect all of us and NOW!!

    Why the state, prodded by fish people and the Sierra Club( I used to be a member when I young and dumb), wants to send 40% of river water down to the ocean so fish will come back and spawn and provide sport for fishermen is beyond me. Yay! Right. Well, why should a guy limit out while all that precious water to grow fish went down river while WE ARE IN A DROUGHT seems stupid to me when the Lord said that us humans have domain over all the animals(and trees) on earth. So, we have humans over here and fish over there on the scale of what’s more important. Fish…..humans? Humans……..fish? Yep, it’s humans, hands down. Sorry Sierra Club and fishermen. You should have done your homework on available water first AND talked about this subject with us humans BEFORE you put your hair brained idea to dump all that water down river! Liberal legislators are so in bed with these fish people that they forget that they are human too and need….yep, water too, just like the rest of us. We all need water to survive, duh. So, what do we need here? LAWS! NOW! I hope Terry Withrow and the rest of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors are paying attention to Emerson’s article and realize the urgency to enact laws AND penalties for anyone who abuses OUR water supply.

    Do our legislators really have brains? And, what is it they think with? It’s not their frontal lobes, for dang sure. Why the heck do they mandate more housing when there isn’t enough water to supply them adequately? Stupid! Stupid! Stupid Jerry and all those bleeding heart liberals who think about their jobs and not about practical matters like water? Boring, I know. City of Modesto’s best brains just finished low rent housing down on Carver and 9th Street with enough money to build mansions and instead wasted a whole lotto money on…yep, apartments. Makes you wonder don’t it? Who’s brains does the City use anyway? I’m curious. Aren’t you? Who makes such stupid decisions to waste all that hard-earned public money, I don’t care if some was a grant! on a bunch of apartments. “Well, we had to comply with a stupid mandate from the State of California’s stupid liberal legislature with Mr. Moon Beam’s seal of approval!” It sure is hard to beat ’em. You know when these legislators were kids, their folks tried to emphasize read, stay in school and make something of yourself. What do you think they did with them? You guessed it, them kids sat on the pot and tore out the pages!! And that folks is who are calling the shots in Sacramento!

    Now, is that food for thought? Or what! #1 VOTE ‘EM OUT! #2 LEAN ON OUR SUPERVISORS FOR SOME GOOD LAWS. #3 TELL YOUR FRIENDS ABOUT THIS.

    This whole thing is a little wordy, I know. I had to open my dictionary too.

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