The rate of development of the mountain areas of Madera County is up to 45 years ahead of what was projected in 1975, mainly in the Yosemite Lakes park area. But the development isn’t stopping any time soon, according to Tony Ward, chairman of the Madera County Planning Commission, who was one of the speakers at the Madera County Farm Bureau’s First Annual Water Conference on Thursday at State Center Community College.
The demand for water will increase from the current 3,000 acre feet annually to 10,000 acre feet by the year 2020.
According to Ward, the only real answer to fulfill the needs will be to build the infrastructure necessary pipe surface water in from Redinger Lake.
“We can have 56,386 more homes in the area without adding any new lots by 2020." Beyond 2020, "that number could be more than 80,000,” said Ward. “The wells in the area could become a problem.”
Ken Schmidt of Schmidt and Associates, who has been studying the water issues in the mountain area for a long time, agrees that wells could be a problem.
“Most of the wells in the mountain area are in fractured rock,” said Schmidt. “Rainfall and snow pack form the local water sources. The water has only two places to go. If it’s not pumped out of the ground, it provides the local plants with moisture, or it runs off into spring flows. Most of the water in the valley comes from surface runoff, not from mountain groundwater.”
Besides a lack of water, the lack of quality water is the main issue, according to Schmidt.
“Water quality is a problem throughout the mountains,” Schmidt said. “There are problems with salt, iron, manganese, sulfides and nitrates, but the real problem is with uranium, and attempting to treat the water for uranium is not economically feasible.”
The other difficulty facing the region is the ever-increasing population. Wells are getting closer and closer together, which has the effect of drawing down the underground water supply faster than it can be recharged. Some of these wells are inadequate to maintain themselves during the long dry summers, especially in drought years.
“We have learned that a 72 hour pump test is inadequate,” said Schmidt. “We now want to have a 10- to 20-day pump test to determine if a well can provide a 180-day yield.”
The pump test is needed to ensure the well can meet the demand of the user even during long, dry spells when the well will not be recharged.
With so many wells being drilled in the area, placing a bigger demand on the water supply, Schmidt said, “To ensure adequate wells, we may have to create a well-spacing ordinance.”
With population predictions reaching up to the 200,000 mark in Eastern Madera County, being able to provide both quality and quantity of water will be a huge undertaking, Ward said.
Dave Hoplain, co-chairman of the Eastern Madera County Water Oversight Committee, said, “I am compelled by the idea that mountain residents and flatlanders must work together. To divide the mountains and Valley floor is bad news.”