Sean Bothwell & Don McEnhill, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Facing another drought year and the reality that inadequate groundwater management is leading to a race to the bottom, on Oct. 4, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors took a critical step toward sustainable water management by placing a temporary pause on issuance of new well permits.
The supervisors deserve credit for recognizing that groundwater is not limitless, and that the health of communities, rivers and local economies depend on sustainable and equitable management. Over the next six months, while the pause is in place, the county will develop science-based rules to govern groundwater well permits to ensure impacts of pumping on neighboring streams and downstream users are accounted for and addressed.
All Sonoma County residents have a stake in improving groundwater management. This is the county’s chance to change course and ensure we are better prepared for a warmer future.
During the current drought, California is facing the long-term limits of our water resources. States, including California, are discussing how to reduce Colorado River water use to a sustainable level, and vast regions of Central and Northern California face severely overtapped groundwater supplies.
California law has long maintained a fictional distinction between regulated diversions from rivers and lakes, and unregulated groundwater pumping. The problem is that nature does not make this distinction. In much of California, groundwater pumping simply sucks water out of rivers from below, through their gravel beds. In some places, excessive groundwater pumping literally causes rivers to run dry.