Digger - November 05, 2022
According to a recent Associated Press story, rural communities across the American west are losing access to groundwater as heavy pumping depletes aquifers that are not being replenished because of the megadrought plaguing the region. In California alone more than 1,200 wells have run dry in 2022, compared with fewer than 100 per year in 2018, 2019, and 2020, a reflection the severity of the drought now in its fourth year. The past three years have been the driest on record in California with no relief in sight. As a result, water levels in 64% of wells in the state have fallen below normal. In some places municipal wells have already gone dry because of over pumping by agriculture.
All of this comes as California's water agencies seek to comply with the state's Sustainable Groundwater Management act of 2014 (SGMA) signed into law by then Governor Jerry Brown to prevent depletion of groundwater. The article cites experts who believe that the law will eventually lead to more sustainable groundwater supplies in 20 years, but warn that "the road will be bumpy." The Borrego Basin Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP), however, may not contain sufficient shock absorbers to compensate for such a bumpy road or, if it does, those responsible for implementation and monitoring the GSP may be reluctant to invoke them.
In any case, the basin watershed is not exempt from the widespread drought, which means that the recharge rate for its aquifer is almost certainly being reduced. If the basin is to stay on track to sustainability by 2040 as required by SGMA there must be a commensurate reduction in the withdrawal rate. But, John Peterson, former San Diego County Hydrologist, Chair of the Borrego Springs Community Sponsor Group Water and Land Use Subcommittee, and member of the Watermaster Board Environmental Working Group, has repeatedly warned that there is inadequate data on groundwater levels and quality in the northern half of the Basin where agriculture is located - exactly what is needed to inform such decisions.
Whether from lack of foresight, reluctance to act, insufficient data, poor communication, or some combination thereof, there appears to be virtually no publicly available information about what, if anything, is being contemplated to fill this gaping pothole in the bumpy road to sustainability.
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