The City of Turlock will urge members of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors to consider a temporary cease on new agricultural production wells, as groundwater continues to become a diminishing resource in the city.
The issue was brought to light at Tuesday evening’s City Council meeting when city staff requested City Manager Roy Wasden to write a letter to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors seeking a stakeholder group be assembled to consider groundwater pumping regulations within the county.
Staff also suggested that Wasden request a moratorium on new agricultural production wells while said regulations are being developed.
“The eastern portion of our county is seeing a rapid conversion of range land to more permanent crops, and at this time, there is inadequate information to see how this trend is affecting regional water supply,” said Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke. “As you know, our own water supply is entirely reliant on groundwater for our drinking water supply. Over time, it has become increasingly difficult for us to provide adequate quantity and quality of water to our residents and businesses.”
For several years, the City of Turlock has developed plans to expand its drinkable water supply by obtaining surface water from the Turlock Irrigation District. The City has planned to acquire drinking water from the Tuolumne River to ensure Turlock residents a long-term, stable supply of high quality drinking water. According to Cooke, the City has spent approximately $3 million to date in planning this project.
“All of our General Plan and future plan documents rely upon obtaining a future supply of water from the irrigation district,” said Cooke. “Unfortunately, TID right now is facing actions from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the State Water Resources Control Board, as well as a drought – all of which seem to be constraining TID's available water supply which may also limit the amount of surface water the City could receive for the potential surface water project.”
Given the uncertainty over the sustainability of current groundwater pumping patterns, and the potential for TID's possible inability to provide urban users with an adequate quantity of surface water, Cooke said that it may be time to look at some type of intervention.
“It may be time for the County to intervene,” said Cooke. “We have a concern and we want to go on record and encourage others to do the same.”
“We’re not telling them to do a moratorium, we’re just moving them in the direction that they should study it ...,” said Councilman Forrest White. “What they’re basically looking at is what’s happening down in San Luis Obispo County and using that as sort of a format.”
According to city staff, Turlock residents have made a great effort in conserving water, as water use has been down significantly despite a considerable population growth.
In 2012, Turlock pumped about 7 billion gallons of groundwater – the same volume pumped in 1999 when the city’s population was 17,000 less.
The city currently takes steps to manage groundwater, such as filtering storm water to irrigate city parks, recycling water to TID for cooling at the Walnut Energy Center, and using recycled water to irrigate Pedretti Park. It is also reported that the City is looking into the feasibility of providing recycled water for farmland irrigation.
But with precious groundwater continuing to diminish, the City of Turlock and other agencies are persistently investigating ways to avoid entering a regional water crisis.
“The Chamber is working towards a moratorium right now,” said Turlock Chamber of Commerce President Sharon Silva. “One of our projects we’re taking on this year is groundwater issues. We’re really afraid for the future of this community.”
The City hopes that countywide regulations will be implemented to help ensure the sustainability of groundwater pumping, while also improving the quality and quantity of groundwater in the region.