Last Tuesday, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors voted in a three-to-two decision to proceed with the draft Water Management Ordinance and future discussion. The discussion of Yolo County’s groundwater, surface water and flood control governance has been an ongoing concern for the board and residents – especially for farmers.
According to the draft ordinance on the Yolo County website, “…the County requires access to information regarding groundwater levels, groundwater quality, and land subsidence issue“ in order to better protect and manage the region’s water resources. A permit and monitoring program would be applied to aid the collection of information.
The amendment or replacement of the Groundwater Ordinance is one of three proposed future actions of the water management plan, the other two being a tax or fee and the creation of a county water agency to regulate the groundwater on public and private land.
The purpose of the tax is twofold: “to ensure that monitoring and mitigation [take] place with respect to any and all groundwater related water transfers” and “to mitigate any third-party impact to governmental services directly or indirectly related to any water transfers,“ according to the website.
“It’s a classic dichotomy between probate property rights and the management of a public benefit resource,” supervisor Mariko Yamada said. “Water has always been controversial. This is no different than all of the water wars that have occurred throughout history. This is a step the county wants to take to protect its resources.“
Yamada said she emphasizes how this is a draft for discussion.
“It’s important for everyone to understand that this is not a done deal,” she said. “This is the first for public opportunity to reveal what our water council has put together for consideration.“
County supervisor Matt Rexroad, who voted against the ordinance based on private property rights, said the board of supervisors would serve on the water agency. Rexroad said the water agency and the ordinance are controversial.
“It’s an ownership question. At what point as you dig further down does [the water] stop being yours and start being the public’s?,” he said. “That’s the question here. The farmers believe they own everything under the ground. The law is tricky on that. The current law says water in the aquifers belongs to the public as a whole and the county and the state has ability to regulate that. A lot of farmers don’t necessarily agree with that.“
The May 13 meeting was a follow-up discussion of the Apr. 22 meeting. Yolo County will now schedule stakeholder meetings and community outreach opportunities before the next board meeting on July 22. The dates and locations of the community outreach meetings are yet to be determined.
Ryan Broddrick of the Northern California Water Association, which represents water districts and landowners in the effort to protect the region’s water rights, said he is looking forward to the outreach meetings.
“We want to make sure everyone understands, as water districts that provide water, that we have fairly extensive groundwater plans and documents and rules,” Broddrick said. “We would like to make sure those are considered.“
Tim Miramontes, president of Yolo County Farm Bureau, said he is also looking to the community outreach meetings as a way to voice his concerns and oppositions to the board’s action.
“We are against the ordinance as it reads right now,” he said. “We are having our town meeting with the water agency and the county for an ordinance that we can both live by.“
Farmers are opposed to a possible tax as well.
“We are opposed to being regulating on the water we can use and being taxed on that water,” Miramontes said. “It mainly affects farmers but also people in the city and residents. We would like to see us having some input without a policy that is way too regulating. What they are asking for is already being done and none is being taxed for.“
Yamada said she doesn’t want to raise any unnecessary alarms with the discussion of a possible fee.
“I am personally not going to move forward on anything until I’m sure all parties will have the opportunity to be heard,” Yamada said. “I will not support anything until we have our first joint meeting as the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.“
County supervisors Mike McGowan, Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada were in favor of the motion to move forward and supervisors Duane Chamberlain and Matt Rexroad opposed.
‘The county is doing a huge disservice,” Rexoad said. “I agree Yolo does need to have a discussion about water. My problem is the county has mishandled the rollout of this. It is causing harm to our cause.“
At this point in the year, farmers are busy working in the harvest season.
“We claim we want to be farmer friendly, but they are right in the middle of harvest,” Rexroad said. “We should have this [discussion] during winter months. It’s a complete disturbance.“
POOJA KUMAR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX.