Last Wednesday, the Stanislaus Water Advisory Committee (SWAC) finally figured out there’s groundwater on the west side of the county as well as the east. Committee members then realized there’s no representation on the committee from west side farmers.
What the committee hasn’t yet realized, and will never want to face, is there is no representation from groundwater users in the city of Modesto*, no representation from fisherman, no representation from recreational users of our reservoirs and rivers, and no representation from the countless other people who are adversely affected when water is diverted away from them.
It’s probably only coincidence that this was the week Modesto residents received notice that due to the drought the city will be relying more on groundwater to serve its water users. Wait until those users figure out that all that pumping on the county’s east side is probably adding greatly to seepage losses in the Modesto reservoir, not to mention reduced flows along the Tuolumne River.
But representation isn’t the real issue and never was. The real issue on this committee, which as Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini pointed out months ago, is conflicts of interest. And after four months, the conflicts are finally coming into the light.
Consider this: When committee member Larry Byrd brought up the question of who’s going to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars in committee expenses, the cat jumped out of the bag.
“You should get started on funding right away,” said Byrd. “It shouldn’t be that hard to do.”
Well driller Sean Roddy then pointed out what everyone has known all along but been unwilling to say publicly:
“If you can take a moratorium off the table, these guys [well users] will come in,” he said. “Then they’ll feel protected. At this point they don’t feel protected.”
Roddy didn’t add that even he might be willing to chip in if drilling and pumping could continue at the current breakneck pace.
Byrd also brought up another issue guaranteed to make many committee members squirm.
“When are we going to hire a consultant?” he said.
Consultant? Who on the committee really wants a consultant? Certainly not Walt Ward, the committee water expert. With a consultant, who needs Ward? And certainly not most of the committee members who stand to lose if and when the consultant says there’s a serious overdraft of the east side aquifer.
Worse yet is the prospect of learning what hydrologists and water insiders already know: Whenever there appears to be a limitless supply of groundwater, the source is nearby surface water. Too many committee members are hoping no one realizes their water is very likely coming indirectly from a nearby river or reservoir. And if it’s not, it’s about to run out.
Wednesday’s meeting made one thing abundantly clear: Despite Byrd’s obvious desire to get things moving, nothing’s going to happen in this water game until the dice are shaved, the wheel is tilted, and the deck is stacked.
The only real question is whether or not Stanislaus County Supervisors are willing to let all that happen before they decide they’ve seen enough. All they really need is a consultant without a conflict of interest. And if they want to maintain local control, they better get one fast. All the SWAC has done so far is give the state more and more reasons to step in and take over.
*Committee member Bill Zoslocki, a Modesto City Councilmember, has thus far shown interest only insofar as how groundwater use might affect growth, which he favors. He was not present for Wednesday’s meeting.