Earth Day water warning

Barbara Vlamis has been Butte Environmental Council’s executive director for more than 14 years.

For 27 years, Butte Environmental Council and the Northstate have celebrated Earth Day with the Endangered Species Faire. The faire’s theme this year is “Hidden Water … In Danger?"—quite appropriate in light of the escalating threats to move water from Butte County to urban developments south of us.

As illustrated in the recent unveiling of Western Canal Water District’s proposal to send surface water to Palmdale, water sellers want to either sell surface water entitlements (while using more groundwater for continuing agricultural operations) or move both surface and groundwater.

Groundwater is the lion’s share of Butte County’s drinking water, and manipulating it could affect 90 percent of Butte County’s population. After the drought in 1994, surface-water transfers using groundwater replacement had a heavy impact on local farmers and on Durham. Individual wells ran dry, one Durham community well was forced to close, hoses ran between neighbors’ houses, people unwittingly drank polluted water before their wells dried up, and one family lost part of its farm.

While BEC and local family farmers have advocated for local groundwater protection since 1995, agricultural water districts, Butte and Glenn county representatives, consultants and the California Department of Water Resources have been laying the groundwork to extract, sell and ship groundwater south. For example, below the radar, according to the Northern California Water Association last year, “Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District, Orland Water Users Association, Orland-Artois Water District, and the Natural Heritage Institute have proposed to develop an integrated regional water management planning process that will investigate regional integration of the Lower Tuscan [groundwater supply] into the Sacramento Valley surface water system.”

While the interested sellers looked for profits from water marketing, BEC was seeking experts to analyze the true nature of our water budget in Butte County. Professor Lev Kavaas of UC Davis was an obvious choice as a professional who has assisted entire nations with their water budgets. Yet when he was introduced to the local water sellers, the financing necessary for a scientific baseline was converted into dollars for consultants.

Other professionals who have observed and reported on the results of long-distance water transfers were also looking for different solutions and, according to the Pacific Institute last year, discovered that a 20 percent water savings is possible with greater urban and agricultural land and water efficiency.

To learn more, come to the faire on May 6 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Cedar Grove, Bidwell Park.