Even though we’ve received welcome rain the past few days, it hasn’t been enough to make up the shortage in our water year. The rain season isn’t over, but it’s unlikely we will see enough to even bring us even with last year, which wasn’t all that great.
The lack of rain brings to the forefront the thorniest problem we face, which is that farmers who can’t get surface water will have to pump from deep wells, which means our already overdrafted water table will continue to drop precipitously.
Nobody at this point who is dependent on well water knows how deep they will have to drill, or at what point drilling deeper will become an exercise in futility. But we are beginning to see signs of frustration.
Homeowners who depend on wells for their water, and who are located near farms that irrigate with well water, are already showing up at meetings of the Madera County Board of Supervisors to complain that the farmers’ copious use of well water is making their neighbors’ wells run dry. It won’t be long before those complaints are accompanied by demands to prohibit the drilling of new wells or the deepening of existing wells unless the well owner can demonstrate it won’t do harm to neighbors.
And when the market for new houses recovers, it may be that none can be built because of the requirement that new housing must carry with it a guarantee of future water supplies. In other words, without guaranteed long-term water access, no new housing developments are likely to be built outside the county’s two cities.
This could create economic difficulties for many, along with farmers, who might have to turn to drier-climate crops to stay in business.
Those who want to restore some semblance of a salmon fishery to the San Joaquin River may see their own plans dry up, because those plans need water to work. Had a Temperance Flat dam been built, we’d all have more storage, but even that wouldn’t mean much if rain and snow remain scarce.
Most of us know that there are wet-dry cycles, and that this dry year could well be followed by a wet one. But that’s short-term guessing. Over the long haul, we know we are likely to have less water to work with, and will have to make better use of it.