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TID balks at groundwater ordinance language
District cautious of restrictions that could hurt local farmers
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A proposed Stanislaus County ordinance, intended to prevent inappropriate uses of groundwater, has drawn the ire of the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors as harmful to local farming efforts.
“As it’s written, in looking at this, we feel the ordinance needs to further examine the actual conditions here in Stanislaus County,” said Jeff Barton, TID AGM Civil Engineering & Water Operations.
The draft ordinance, which prohibits the “mining” of groundwater, was created in response to two Crows Landing groundwater wells that were used to pump water into the California Aqueduct, according to Stanislaus County Agricultural Advisory Board Member Wayne Zipser. The farmer was transporting the Stanislaus County groundwater through the aqueduct to a southern county, where he irrigated his dry almond orchards.
“The perception of the county is that this could end up being a big problem,” Zipser said.
However, the murky text of the ordinance — a modified version of a 1992 Tehema County ordinance, with some added provisions from a similar Yolo County ordinance — currently creates issues for what TID sees as legitimate groundwater uses.
The mining and export prohibition does not allow for transfers within a multi-county water district — such as the TID, which operates in Merced County — and does not allow drainage pumping to alleviate high groundwater — a concern in the western Turlock Groundwater Basin, despite the east being in overdraft. Also, Improvement District wells could be made instantly illegal, as they transfer water off-parcel by their very nature, and tile drain pumping could be banned.
The draft ordinance contains an exemption for “historical uses” by recognized water districts or established agricultural operations on contiguous parcels, but what constitutes a historical use is not classified. The TID is concerned that they may be left unable to construct new wells, replace existing wells, or use rented pumps during periods of drought.
“The use of groundwater in the Turlock Irrigation District plays an integral part in how we manage the delivery of water to our customers, and how we manage both in dry periods and wet periods,” Barton said.
While permits for groundwater extraction and off-parcel use could be obtained, the 12-step process provided for in the draft ordinance is considered onerous by TID officials and could cost as much as $15,000.
According to Zipser — who said he couldn’t speak for the Ag Advisory Board — TID’s concerns were valid. He said the board would be willing to review TID’s requested changes and clarify the ordinance language.
“We’re just farmers,” Zipser said. “And most of the guys who serve on the sub-committee, who came up with the ordinance, are not attorneys.”
A formal list of the TID’s concerns with the ordinance will be drafted this week, and put up for approval by the Board of Directors on Tuesday. A modified version of the groundwater ordinance will likely find the TID’s support.
“To me, to prevent a select few people from profiteering from exporting water that could be used in a dry year, I don’t see that as particularly onerous,” said TID Division 1 Director Michael Frantz. “I think as long as the county can support our sharpening of the language, our changes, we should support it. I do.”
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.