Mike Hornick, staff writer
Mike Hornick, staff writer

The beauty of underground water is that the authorities can’t send it out to the ocean,” John Pandol, special projects director for Delano-based Pandol Bros. Inc., told me back in May.

Since then groundwater has come under regulatory authority in California, as it has been for a while in other Western states.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed three bills Sept. 16 requiring some water districts and local governments to manage wells.

A door has been left open for state agencies to intervene if they don’t like the results.

Of course regulators are not really going to transfer water from aquifer to ocean. That’s absurd — but no more so than the release of winter storm runoff to the sea a couple years back as drought loomed.

Still, there should be enough for growers to chafe at. The new laws allow metering and fines to enforce restrictions. There will be implementation fees for the new sustainability plans.

“Together, these bills could mar long-established principles of groundwater allocation established by the California Supreme Court,” Gail Delihant, director of government affairs for California at Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers, wrote a few weeks before Brown signed.

Local agencies have until 2020 to establish the sustainability plans for overdrafted basins. So far, overdraft is a bigger issue in the San Joaquin Valley than elsewhere. Without water allocations there, plenty of incentive exists to drill wells. But the more prudent growers did so decades ago.

It’s been a mixed bag of California legislative outcomes for agriculture this year. The industry will see more water storage projects — eventually — but also more scrutiny.

And if the drought continued indefinitely, you could even see water transferred the other way round — from ocean to aquifer. Draining aquifers can invite saltwater intrusion in coastal growing areas like the Salinas Valley.

Brine irrigated lettuce makes for a real eyesore on the plate.


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