Stanislaus County Supervisors probably breathed a sigh of relief when the Modesto Bee chose not to report Dr. Vance Kennedy’s comments at their October 21 board meeting. As an award-winning hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, Kennedy accumulated a career’s worth of on-the ground experience to go along with his academic credentials. At ninety-one years of age, he remains current with research in his field, especially research involving groundwater. A passionate defender of prime farmland as well as a firm believer in sustainable use of resources, Dr. Kennedy has grown increasingly alarmed at the wanton destruction of one of the last viable aquifers in the San Joaquin Valley. Here is the text of his remarks to Stanislaus County Supervisors last Tuesday:
In a recent public meeting, Walter Ward was criticized for not doing his job. He does not deserve it. You do.
It is obvious we need a lot more information on water resources than we have now, especially on groundwater. There is a lot of data out there that needs to be accumulated and interpreted. It is not a one-man only job. You have tried to do it on the cheap by appointing a well-intentioned group, each of which has his own private interests, but no skills in pulling together the available information for you.
You have also tried to avoid lawsuits, a commendable desire. However, when private individuals used public resources such as groundwater at the expense of other parties you should have stopped it. You did not, and now you are dealing with the bad results.
A law suit is inevitable when you try to right what has happened. You need to authorize several hundred thousands of dollars immediately to aid Ward in acquiring data on water table elevations, pumping rates, and other data needed for informed action and for court defense. That amounts to less than a dollar per person in the county to address a problem potentially devastating to the society as a whole. You must act now and not delay any longer. Past inaction is inexcusable. You must do better.
The state has recently passed laws requiring sustainability of water use, but over an unreasonably long time period. The sustainability of groundwater in the foothills is, on the face of it, not possible given the wells already authorized. There is groundwater recharge of perhaps six inches per year and groundwater is being pumped at several feet per year. It is an ongoing environmental disaster. It should be stopped now, and you have the power to do that. You must protect the general public.
That groundwater is thousands of years old and cannot be replaced in less than centuries to millennia. Australia recently went through a ten-year drought. It could happen here also. That groundwater in the foothills could serve as a valley life saver if not frittered away as is being done now.
The obvious answer is to stop groundwater pumping in the foothills, not just halting well permits until you have the needed understanding of the situation. You have permitted a disaster. Now, please move to forestall further damage.
I believe you are partially responsible for wells going dry in the foothills by your inaction. Please face up to that. A rancher’s house and land are valueless with no well water at a reasonable depth. Think about it.
This is my view. You have a second highly qualified geologist with hydrologic understanding on your staff [Dr. Horacio Ferriz]. Ask for his views also.
More of the public should speak out, the sooner the better.