Humboldt County submitted an analysis of conditions in the lower Eel River groundwater basin claiming the basin has operated within sustainable yield for the past 10 years, and that it is unnecessary to adopt a groundwater sustainability plan. Given what we have seen on the river, we do not agree.
In August 2014, the lower Eel River went dry below Fortuna, even as irrigators in the lower Eel River Valley continued to pump groundwater and spray their fields without any restrictions or reporting requirements. Lower Eel River Valley irrigators, like agricultural interests across California, have insisted they have rights to pump groundwater without any limits.
Last of the 50 states to do so, California finally moved to begin to protect groundwater with the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The law requires local entities to prepare Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) in groundwater basins which the state Department of Water Resources has evaluated as “medium” priority or above. These GSPs are required to avoid “undesirable results” such as depletion of interconnected surface water.
The Lower Eel River Valley Groundwater Basin sits right in the middle of DWR’s list of medium-priority basins. The lower Eel is notlisted as a priority basin because it is subject to massive subsidence. Rather, it’s listed because the Department of Water Resources classifies it as a “(s)hallow basin with strong (surface water-groundwater) interaction and fishery issues. Useable ground water basin storage is estimated at 100,000 af and annual use is estimated at over one‐half the total storage.”
Humboldt County, acting at the behest of to local agricultural interests, has responded to the SGMA by insisting that unrestricted extraction amounts to sustainable management of the lower Eel River valley’s groundwater. Humboldt County’s argument boils down to “there’s a lot more water than you thought and we’re pumping less of it than you thought”.
The problem with this position is that is requires Humboldt County pretend that groundwater pumping had nothing to do with the lower Eel going dry in August 2014. If that isn’t an “undesirable result,” what could be?
Please join us in asking the Department of Water Resources to reject Humboldt County’s Alternative Plan and require a full Groundwater Sustainability Plan as required by SGMA.