Watered down

The water beneath Butte County is still there, according to a report presented to the county water commission Tuesday.

According to the report, prepared annually by the Department of Water and Resource Conservation, declines in water levels over the past few years have stabilized and are probably due to “precipitation patterns and not the result of increased water use.”

That revelation is sure to please farmers and other water users—the city of Chico being the biggest—as water is often referred to as NorCal’s most important natural resource.

But not everyone is cheering. Local environmentalist Jim Brobeck told the commission the report “downplays the decline in water levels” and leaves out data that could help the county prepare for drought years.

“Historically, the last 150 years has been one of the wettest periods on record,” he said. “Aquifers are extremely sensitive to even short-term droughts. We need to look at all the scientific evidence.”

Brobeck, a member of the Sacramento Valley Environmental Water Caucus, has long warned that over-pumping of the Tuscan Aquifer could lead to an environmental and economic catastrophe for the county. He said he worries that the state will attempt to link Butte County’s groundwater with the state water system, sending even more Northern California water south.

Water department director Toccoy Dudley said he appreciates Brobeck’s point of view and may use some of his suggestions in the next report, such as incorporating more precipitation data. But he also said the report is sound, and shows the county is not overusing groundwater.

“There are a few anomalies but mostly, the groundwater basin is chock-full,” he said the day after the meeting. “We’re in good shape.”