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Glad supervisors are focusing on water

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webmaster | 03/05/14

It’s nice to see the Madera County Board of Supervisors is finally paying lip service, if not some attention, to the dwindling Madera County water supplies, as acres of new residential development are planned and hundreds of acres of new orchards go in all around us.

One in four existing residential wells, if not more, are failing or going dry, according to County Engineer Ken Vangh in an interview two years ago. Nothing like an unprecedented drought to focus the mind.

Sustainability, though, appears to be a bad word, or at least impolite and unwelcome in most local circles.

Our complicated and artificial state water supply has just been rudely interrupted — introducing a dose of reality, but ensuring even more local groundwater will be pumped and depleted for area crops.

Most residents I have talked to do have an opinion on the management, or mismanagement of our area water supplies, but I can’t quote or reprint them here. These same residents also value their time, and seriously doubt you, their elected officials, will do anything but rubber stamp projects or cater to your own interests at any public meetings.

Is it too much to ask that our elected board prioritize and protect existing residents and halt the expansion of new subdivisions AND stop or regulate the expansion of new ag wells until or if those projects can be determined to be water sustainable for all who reside here?

Of course, this would mean finding the courage to say no to developers that promise lots of new dollars in tax shell games, and wealthy ranchers and businessmen who fund campaigns.

Currently no feasibility study or even approval is required to drill a new ag well, just the county permit paperwork and cursory fee.

My 300-foot-deep, 10-year-old well in a residential area off Avenue 22 in north Madera started to go dry about four years ago. In denial, I struggled with the decision for a year or two and then emptied an IRA to drill a new well 500 feet deep. Ranchers across Dry Creek drilled several new 1,500-foot-deep wells to irrigate hundreds of acres of freshly planted almond trees. I am told those 24-inch-diameter wells are capable of drafting around 4,000 gallons a minute.

It’s not the same water as mine, they claim — with a straight face. But last I checked, water still flows downhill.

A neighbor’s older well is also “low refill” or almost dry. Shhh, but dwindling pressure in lawn sprinklers is the first sign of refill decline.

This family of five is now considering walking away from their home of 20 plus years, as they don’t have the money or confidence to deepen their well. “What’s the point, if the water table just keeps declining?” They wonder: Who is watching out for us in this county?”

Many other struggling county residents have already walked away from or lost their homes due to the lack of residential groundwater, contributing to the collapse and decline of local real estate values.

I’m no expert. Madera is an agricultural county and the cycle of residents with ag jobs is hugely interdependent. And do the most of the almonds really get exported, whole and unprocessed, to China now?

Most people would agree, when you find yourself in a hole, you should probably stop digging.

Accepting the need for sustainability and common sense projects like improving water conservation and storage, and repairing the small dams like the one that once created Lake Madera would be a good start.

If we don’t, we county residents all risk experiencing that feeling of panic when you turn on the kitchen faucet and get nothing but a trickle of water ... mixed with air and sand, one day soon.

About two months ago my stomach turned again, as my kitchen faucet and new 500-foot well briefly sputtered and produced only air. I dropped my coffee cup. As I looked up from the broken cup, I couldn’t help but notice the dry fields of newly planted almond trees across from me were being heavily soaked for the spring season.

“It’s just a pocket of air, a fluctuation ... in the water table ... due to all the ag pumping out by you,” my hard working, knowledgeable, and very busy well and pump guy, Bryan, tried to reassure me.

We do need to dig deep — but it’s to find the courage to say yes to determining what development is now really sustainable for Madera County, and “not right now” — to most, if not all new well and water use requests.

DJ Becker,
Madera County


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