2 Aug 2011

Kern County Water Robbers

(via RM and DL):
lawsuits claim that enormous withdrawals of water by the banks lowered the water table, causing geological damage, service disruptions and costly repairs.


A memorandum of understanding between the small local utility... and the Kern County Water Agency, which operates one of the water banks, stipulated that any problems resulting from its bank would be the agency’s responsibility.

But the agency said it was not to blame, and made no effort to cover costs.


Now engineers believe it [the Bank] reversed the area’s underground hydraulic gradient, turning a hill-shaped water table, accessible by shallow wells, into a valley. The trigger for the huge withdrawals was a drought that began in 2007... in the 40 months beginning in March 2007, roughly half the banks’ capacity was pumped out to keep fruit and nut trees alive.
Sounds like the farmers using the Water Bank were more like robbers who emptied their vault -- and then that of their neighbors.

Why did this happen?
  1. No groundwater monitoring or regulation
  2. No property rights in groundwater
  3. Unequal political and financial power
We can't fix #3, but we can sure fix #1 and #2.

I wonder what Senator Feinstein would say? Would she contradict her aggie sugar-daddies in defending small farmers and little communities?

Bottom Line: The rich will rob the poor of their water until the rights of the poor are protected -- and this problem will only get worse as water scarcity increases.


Mr. Kurtz said...

I suspect the reality is far more nuanced than the rather breathless description here. The complex maze of Kern County water is something that few, (and I am not one of them) understand. But I would take this claim with a grain of salt.
The larger issue is that groundwater users are going to be regulated one way or another. They can work out a system on their own, or have one forced upon them by the know-nothings in the think tanks and non-profits. It's ag's choice.

David Zetland said...

@Kurtz -- thanks for being the voice of reason (altho' we had a pretty good hysteria party goin' there...)

TOTALLY agree on the need for aggies to LEAD instead of getting dragged into regulation. I expect that city slickers would enact something remarkably stupid, expensive, and OBLIGATORY.

Then who's gonna cry?

Kara said...

In agreement with Mr. Kurtz these claims and others from the July 26 NY Times article, omit huge portions of the story. What the Times article fails to mention is that before the banking program the region faced severe groundwater overdraft, which lowered the water table significantly. Subsequent implementation of the water banking programs raised the groundwater levels during the years when water was being stored in the banks. During these periods third parties received benefits from the positive externalities associated with higher groundwater tables, most prominently through pumping water from shallower than would be possible without the banking programs (lower energy cost). When water is recovered from the banks, these same third parties experience lowered water tables and the associated costs, as mentioned in the article. The question in these cases however is about the net benefits or costs experienced by third parties during the lifecycle operation of the water banks. I'm curious which MOU is referenced in these quotes, because I thought many of the MOUs between the water banks and third parties (nearby landowners not participating in the banking operations) take into consideration both the costs and benefits of banking programs. For example, an MOU between the Kern Water Bank Authority and non-banking participants states:

“It is intended that all recovery of recharged water be subject to the so-called “golden rule.” In the context of a banking project, the “golden rule” means that, unless acceptable mitigation is provided, the banker may not operate so as to create conditions that are worse than would have prevailed absent the project giving due recognition to the benefits that may result from the project…”

NY Times - Storing Water for a Dry Day leads to Suits:

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