It seems we, the residents of Kern County, are impaled on the horns of an ethical dilemma: working towards the passage of the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) which requires a local plan approved by the ‘National Water Board to ensure that already overexploited aquifers do not take more water than enters by natural means (snowmelt and rain) compared to the city and county issuing thousands of building permits for new homes and other new commercial developments, which extract groundwater from aquifers without worrying about how these developments deplete water tables faster than they can be recharged.
The law required that by January 31, 2020, all state-wide water jurisdictions have their water management plans compliant with the SWB approval that the “water-balance” out-water-return ”will be achieved by 2040. Only two state jurisdictions (Sacramento and Ventura) are currently in compliance with the law.
Collateral damage: Due to overuse of groundwater, counties up and down the San Joaquin Valley, especially Kern, have experienced sagging (sagging) of one degree or another for decades, some areas sagging more than a foot each year. The subsidence has taken its toll on aqueducts built decades ago, cracking some irreparably and causing water to accumulate or even flow in the wrong direction. Repairing these aqueducts will cost several billion. In addition, entire rural towns are currently without water, forcing them to transport water by truck for commercial and residential purposes. Is this an omen of things to come for us?
Meanwhile, and here is where the shoe pinches, officials in our city and county are busy issuing building permits in the thousands for residential, commercial and hotel developments. Does anyone see a problem here? Every house built and every business opened increases the demand on our groundwater. Exact figures for water use are not readily available and the range of water use varies widely depending on the type of user. So, we don’t know the precise extent of the problem we are creating. But we are busy building around and in our city and county at the expense of groundwater and eventual depletion. In addition, a walk around our city reveals a large amount of new landscaping of trees and shrubs demanding water.
Every newly built home and every new business and hotel development, through city and county property taxes paid, as well as our increased number of buyers (think local sales taxes paid), is a money generator for city and county. It also increases employment in construction trades and construction-related industries, boosting our local economy. When done right, new homes and businesses put more money – directly and indirectly – into city and county coffers than they take out. It’s a good business model, except in times of drought.
Now on to the ethical question: are we continuing to build and develop at the expense of our groundwater, or should we stop and focus our efforts on conserving the water we have left?
Kern County has 19 years to become SGMA compliant. But at the rate we are allowing and building new homes and malls and other thirsty, and the perpetual imbalance that such activity creates, we will never be able to meet the 2040 goal of balancing our groundwater extraction with replenishment. groundwater. Are our local leaders oblivious to the dangers of this high-flying water-balancing act? Do they not see the need for a serious correction of course? Or at least a safety net?
So what is in store for us? A sprawling ghost town of new worthless homes and bankrupt new business developments glistening like a mirage in a desert? Recall that Kern County was a desert ecosystem (less than 10 inches of rain per year) until Colonel Baker and other contractors set out to give it another appearance. Don’t our local and county officials owe it to us to look downstream at the drying up of our surface and underground rivers and lakes, as well as virtually all reservoirs in our state, and recognize that we have a serious problem ? But, by the time the predictable and preventable crisis strikes, our current local leaders will be long gone, leaving the water-out-water-back problem to a new cohort of administrators.
So when do our leaders take our water problem seriously and stop issuing building permits and kicking the box?
Brik McDill, Ph.D. is a retired psychologist and an associate of the Kegley Institute of Ethics at CSUB.