Local News

Tuesday, Oct 08 2013 06:00 AM

Dry years, low water levels prompt study

Cummings Valley groundwater level causing concern

Groundwater in the Cummings Basin has shown signs of depletion over the last decade with a very small rate of recovery from the wet year 2011. And 2013 has been one of the driest.

That state of affairs has promoted Tehachapi-Cummings County Water District General Manager John Martin to ask for the board's approval to conduct a groundwater modeling study for the Cummings Groundwater Basin.

The study would update the data that was collected in March of 2004, which according to Martin included 21 years of data --1981 through 2001.

Nearly 12 years have elapsed since then, and during that time groundwater levels in the basin, as indicated by its four key wells -- has declined -- falling to or below the calculated safe yield of the basin, which according to a report provided to the district by Fugro Consultants, is due to in part to increased development in the Cummings Valley Basin.

The report also indicated that the changes in water use and land use has substantially lessened the adjudicated safe yield value -- a term used to express the amount of water an aquifer or well can yield for consumption without producing unacceptable negative effects, such as contamination by induced infiltration, decreased river flows and overall lowering of the water table.

Among those changes are increases in groundwater pumpage by some agricultural users, continued groundwater production in the northern edge of the basin by Bear Valley Community Services District, expansion of groundwater production in the southern part of the basin by Stallion Springs Community Services District and changes in land use by some of the major agricultural interests.

The report also addressed the below normal rainfall over the past two years -- an issue Martin addressed with directors.

"We are going to likely see another low number year," he said. "So, I think there is some urgency to see on updating our groundwater model and getting better information."

But the study comes at a hefty price of $129,980.

However, it would provide the district with 33 years of data, which Martin said would be more than enough to substantiate an accurate safe yield number, which could then be used to control pumping in the basin to a better extent than it is being done now.

"It's an expensive project, and the big question is how do we get this done," Martin said.

As watermaster for the basin, the district has a responsibility to manage its groundwater and is willing to foot one third of the bill to update the district's groundwater modeling study.

However, Martin is reaching out to all of those who benefit from the basin's groundwater supply, asking them to chip in.

Martin's idea is to equally split the study three ways between the district, agricultural pumpers and municipal and industrial pumpers, with each group contributing $43,327. Each group's contribution would be allocated to pumpers within the group based on actual water pumped during the water year of Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013.

According to Martin, both Bear Valley and Stallion Springs are interested in moving forward with the study and have indicated that they would be willing to participate financially. Martin has also solicited the state's California Correctional Institution and a few of the valley's farmers, who have also expressed their support.

"We are all stakeholders in that basin so hopefully people realize that this is something that they're doing for their own benefit and are willing to contribute," he said.

All of the stakeholders were to meet on Monday, Oct. 7 (after the deadline for this edition) and depending on the outcome, the next step is for Martin to present a plan back to the water district's directors at the board's Oct. 16 meeting.

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