October 23, 2014
To the EcoNews editor:
Elaine Weintrob's report on the groundwater planning and management law signed recently by Governor Brown did a good job describing complex legislation. The article failed, however, to mention one of the most important aspects of the new law - the lack of a requirement that groundwater management address the impact of past and current groundwater extraction on surface flows.
With dewatered basins like the Klamath's Scott River tributary in mind, the Klamath Forest Alliance, Klamath Riverkeeper and the North Coast Stream Flow Coalition fought hard for provisions which would require not only analysis of the impact of groundwater extraction on streamflow, but also that flow depletions which negatively impact beneficial uses, including fisheries and surface water rights, would be redressed via the management plans adopted.
With the help of a statewide environmental coalition and friends on key committees, we were able to get that provision into the legislation. At the 11th hour, however, the governor and leaders of the legislature pulled it. The impacts of groundwater extraction must still be analyzed; but whether or not a local groundwater management entity chooses to address those impacts in its management plan and on the ground is voluntary.
That means local folks who want streamflows addressed in groundwater management plans for the Smith River Plain, Eel River Estuary, Scott and Shasta Rivers will have to participate in the formation of those plans. Marshalling the weight of public opinion, we will have to goad local politicians sitting on groundwater management authorities to reign in groundwater extraction that is negatively impacting flows, fisheries and those who hold surface water rights. Because the Farm Bureau, Cattleman's Association and powerful local agricultural operators will oppose addressing flow depletion resulting from groundwater extraction, those battles will be fierce.
Taking out dams is a good thing; ultimately, however, healthy fisheries depend most on having enough water remain in-stream to sustain healthy aquatic ecosystems. Whether the recent groundwater legislation advances the healthy streams agenda, therefore, will depend on you, and me, actively participating, as well as on how effectively we insist on living streams and rivers.
River Activist with Klamath Forest Alliance