Water crisis in California: Crucial data kept secret

Californians are very concerned about the severe drought the state is facing. And for a good reason: There are no signs that things will get…

California’s drought conditions have worsened over the past month. (Photo by Eduardo Stanley)

Californians are very concerned about the severe drought the state is facing. And for a good reason: There are no signs that things will get any better in the future.

SEE ALSO: What you need to know of the California drought 

The effects of this three-year drought are already visible, with the landscape of the agricultural areas turning yellow what was green.

Water isn’t flowing to the fields and growers are crying for support and better infrastructure to store and distribute water. So the pressure is on for the government to do something.

Building or rebuilding the existing infrastructure would require billions of dollars. In the meantime, growers are digging for underground water, which could have some negative consequences if this become an out of control trend.

water well records are secret

How many new wells have been drilled in the last months? How is this affecting the ground level—over the years, what about areas that are heavily drilled — and water storage? Who is getting more water?

Nobody knows. And there is no way to know.

A 1951 law bar prevents the public from viewing records on water wells, making California one of the few states on doing so. Those records can only be viewed by a limited number of agencies, but no colleges, scientists, journalists or taxpayers can.

“This is unacceptable, we don’t know where are the wells, how much water they contain….” said Omar Carrillo, member of  “Centro Comunitario por el Agua,” of Sacramento, during a phone interview with VOXXI. “Most importantly, we don’t know how much water they are pumping!”

The law requires drilling companies to report all possible information on a special form which is then filed. Currently, some media reports indicates that over 800,000 of those reports are on shelves that nobody sees.

“We need that information if we really want to work on a plan to built or expand water reservoirs,” commented Carrillo. Those reports also contain information about well locations, depth, diameter and geological material involved during the drilling.

The idea of the law, apparently, was to give well drilling companies the right to protect themselves from the competition. However, today even the president of the California Groundwater Association, or CGA  favors a more open filing process.

CGA was created in 1948 and claims it has 40,000 members. Those who oppose changes claim that the filed information could be dangerous in the hands of terrorists.

Main opposition to open the files on water wells come from the California Farm Bureau, also concerned about possible law suits and limitations once the information becomes public.

“At this point, we have two bills that address this issue,” said Carrillo. He refers to AB 1739 and SB 1168. Times are changing Today more and more people demand those files to be open.

Experts claim the information contained on them could be of great use, particularly when the state is dealing with potential multi billion dollar investment on reservoirs, which one way or another will be paid by taxpayers.

Not only that, the issue of water distributing and how to store it, isn’t an easy one since so many interests are involved.“If California wants to invest a huge amount of money on a water project, it has to include the issue of water contamination on rural communities and the solutions to the problem,” said Carrillo.

Like summer in California’s Central Valley, the water war will be a long and a complicated one.

SEE ALSO: Seven facts to know on California’s drought

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