By Scott Steward
Yolo County Supervisors placed a temporary pause on new Yolo ag well water permits until the local regional water agency can put the data and analysis together to, more certainly, tell the story about the water under our feet.
This is the story about the water that we depend on for thriving local ag and the precious remainder of our beleaguered biome in Yolo, and the greater Sacramento valley. On July 11th farmers and residents testified to the Yolo Board of Supervisors about their experience (Davisite 7/2023) with receding well water and wells going dry. The principal cause identified as newer/bigger wells drafting water for previously unirrigated land for perennial trees (nuts) and vines.
On September 12th, the Board consider options that included a moratorium on new well applications. Between the July BOS meeting and the 9/12 meeting, staff and the Director of the Yolo Subbasin Groundwater Agency were to help the Board with more Data. At this last meeting we found out that the data is just not ready and so, in absence of any evidence not to act more conservatively, the Board unanimously chose a 45 day moratorium option.
Supervisor Frerichs brought the final motion "I have heard from farmers and many many residents who are supportive of this (the moratorium option)." The moratorium is not blanket, specifying Clarksburg and other areas as exempt, but generally placing the restriction on the areas experiencing water table drops.
The supervisors were well supported in their decision with letters from many parts, including a letter from a frequent fellow contributor to the Davisite, Allen Miller, supporting the moratorium (his letter with others here). The majority wrote and spoke about the need for actions that would preserve Yolo County's subbasin aquifer. If you think about it, we are floating ona sea of fresh water - from here to Redding, to Folsom and south.
Public attention is now piqued. The Yolo Subbasin Groundwater Agency is encouraged by the public's interest in their caretaking of our water resource. With that said here are a couple of concerns that I would ask the Board of Supervisors to consider once the data is brought to the Board in in early November and it becomes time to put a more longstanding balanced recharge and use strategy in place. (we are told that opportunities for public comment on the 2023 YSGA report will be provided before the early November Board of Supervisors meeting).
Kristin Sicke, Executive Officer of the Yolo Subbasin Groundwater Agency, presented 5 years of Yolo ag well permit data showing a recent decline. That might be so - with fewer permit applications in 2023. years of data can show a different story about what's at stake. In figure shows total well applications by year. In figure 2 the last 5 years of well applications are shown as a cumulative total (total of 231 applications in the 5 years).
Assuming that most of the 231 well applications are now active commercial ag wells, how much additional water draw capacity is that? I believe the Supervisors and the YSGA would be concerned with just what will happen, that might permanently damage Yolo's water table, in a year when we are not drenched? What is the capacity of wells placed in the last 5-10 years to draw water in 100s of acer feet a day?
Further, assuming that no one wants subsidence and permanent aquifer loss, will it be sufficient to ask for voluntary water draw limits if our climate heads toward drought conditions? Or will we risk the aquifer for one more season of export profits?
Are the private interests, of the consultants working with the County and the YSGA, neutral to a finding that shows the need to reduce or reverse the amount of water drawing capacity for the areas of special concern (and perhaps larger areas) in the county? West Yost (hired by the YSGA) is a world class water engineering company and better that the YSGA has West Yost expertise. Will we see a report that recommends curtailing business as usual if that is what is healthy for those that wish to see a balanced water policy recharged for the next 20 years?
The YSGA's 2022 report shows groundwater storage dropping (figure 19 in the report)
Locals are telling us that they are not seeing a recovery after a record wet year. More wells are waiting to water previously unirrigated land along with already irrigated land. Large agri-businesses are buying tracts of land and stating that they intend to grow "row crops" while their main business is pecans or other high-water draft nut crops. (Setton Pistachio makes $18.5 million farmland purchase in Yolo County, Sacramento Business Journal, Emily Hamann April 26, 2023.)
The center is holding for now. Our Supervisors are indicating they have in mind to continue the legacy of water stewardship in Yolo. None of our farmers, big or small, need go into hardship. We are a community tied together by the need to give our lawmakers good reason to place whatever restrictions, if needed, in ready, if not in place so we can all keep using water a mighty sip at a time at a rate that is perpetually replaced.
We should all look to the Board of Supervisors meeting in November as the next step in implementing a Yolo water strategy is nigh.