Fire on the Mountain, and Groundwater Lies

Thanks to all of you who reached out with concerns about our safety during the Forward Fire here in Manton. It broke out on Fri., Sept. 9, on Ponderosa Way down by Digger Creek. Apparently, a car caught fire, but the driver fled; not at all suspicious, right?

I’m sure the investigation is ongoing, but everyone is grateful for the swift initial attack by firefighters on the ground and in the air. It was nowhere near our place and the wind actually blew it into the burn scar of the Ponderosa Fire which was 10 years and one month ago. That slowed it down and it was held to 160 acres, no small feat in that wind.

Anyway, thanks for all the calls, texts, and emails. We are grateful for the offers of places to stay for us, the pets, and even Donny One Ball the donkey.

I attended the board of supervisors meeting last Tuesday because I had a lunch meeting in town and figured I’d livestream since I had to drive down the hill anyway and the county still hasn’t gotten around to streaming themselves yet. Tick-tock.
The 8:30 a.m. closed session had to be postponed because the phone system wasn’t working. Apparently someone cut the string between the two tin cans. 


When there is a phone option on the agenda and the phones don’t work, it deprives the public of their right to participate. Brown Act stuff. The meeting was rightly postponed, but that’s a big time/money waste for staff and the supes.
A plan for future malfunctions will be discussed Tuesday after a request was made by Vice-Chairman Bill Moule. Another request for an agenda item was made by District 5 Supervisor John Leach to discuss a possible ordinance restricting new ag wells. Some snarky columnist brought it up during Public Comments after she educated the prior speaker on the difference between homosexuals and pedophiles. He thinks all LGBTQ folks molest children. He’s also a climate denier and he and his wife wear matching Trump sneakers. I swear I am not making this up. He’s in his 80s and is a regular “supie”. Wifey rarely speaks.
After the teaching moment, the columnist took a little stroll down Memory Lane for those members of the board and public who might have forgotten about an ag well moratorium considered at the supervisors meeting of Oct. 5, 2021. An urgency ordinance was presented that would have placed a temporary moratorium on new ag well permits. The already permitted wells would still be able to go in. Not enough, but something at least. 
A long line of citizens spoke for and against the ordinance, including members of the Groundwater Commission, who assured us they were working on an ordinance to address this issue. Almost a year has gone by and we have seen no such document from the Groundwater Commission. 
In that elapsed time, hundreds more people have no water coming out of their taps, and the GC has instead been writing regulations to make any new wells less harmful to their neighbors. And that’s great, really. But it does nothing to help the dry well folks. Where is that moratorium you said you were working on, GC? 
On March 28, 2022, Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order which placed a moratorium on new ag well permits – not drilling – as long as the new well was in compliance with that county’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan. I wrote to Groundwater Sustainability Agency Executive Justin Jenson and asked what the verification process was and how many wells have been approved or denied since the executive order. He sent me to Environmental Health – stay tuned.
Justin also wrote the following, “There is no current recorded data indicating well interference within the County. The data we do have from existing monitoring wells indicates that aquifer levels have a relatively consistent rise and fall associated with seasonal rainfall and no obvious signs of immediate effects of pumping in a specific area.” 
Isn’t that nice!
https://tehamacountywater.org/gsa/groundwater-level-monitoring/ has a map of the monitoring wells where data is collected, and there are no county monitoring wells in the affected areas. It might not be updated regularly, but it doesn’t show a single one in Antelope and only one in the Corning sub basin west of I-5 and that one is very close to Corning. The dry wells are occurring west of there, as most people are aware. You’re not going to find the results you don’t want if you’re looking in the wrong place. 

Map from tehamacountywater.org (markups by author) – little purple dots are monitoring wells

To say there isn’t sufficient data is also less than truthful. A guy named Mike Ward has been monitoring 30 wells out in west District 4 monthly and the results are indisputable. The groundwater stops falling as soon as the orchards stop irrigating and before the rains start. What does that tell you?
The layers between aquifers aren’t impermeable. No aquifer is completely cut off from adjacent ones. No groundwater originates from anywhere but the sky and the sky has not been holding up its end of the bargain for years. The Groundwater Commission would have you believe no water from the upper levels can get to the lower. And the less permeable layers between them do slow the water down, which helps.
Since the upper aquifers – from which domestic wells draw – are closer to the surface, they lose water first. Gravity and the vacuum created by overdraft in the lower aquifers – from which production wells draw – suck the upper water downward through the less permeable layers between the aquifers. This is high school Earth Science. When you stick a straw to the bottom of a milkshake, the surface of the shake goes down as you sip. It does not stay at the top leaving an empty space below it. 
Recharge zones for those deep aquifers have historically come from mountain precipitation slowly percolating down through rock, while the more shallow levels recharge through wetlands, rivers, lakes, etc. Have you noticed Lassen Peak, the Trinities, Siskiyous, and Yolla Bollys haven’t had much snow for many years? That means less recharge of deep aquifers and shallow alike. When neither are recharging, the water will run out from top to bottom. 
We must stop drilling new ag wells – with exceptions for mechanically failed replacement wells – to protect our small legacy farmers from Big Nut. And let’s dissolve the Tehama County Groundwater Commission while we’re at it.
If you appreciate journalist Liz Merry’s reporting and commentary, please consider contributing to A News Cafe. Thank you!

Liz Merry

Liz Merry was born in Brooklyn, raised in the Bronx, then transplanted to the Jersey Shore. She moved to Chico in 1984 and married her comedy partner, Aaron Standish, in 1990. They have lived in Manton since 1994.

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