Water Wars – Tehama Style

Country well. Photo source: Morguefile

Tehama County residents are in full freak-out mode, thanks to the well registry form property owners received this week. The form came as quite a shock and invasion of privacy to those not following along. They may not have noticed the extra 29 cent per acre “fee” – actually a tax – on their property tax bills or been following along in the Red Bluff Daily News or – ahem – this column. The 29 cents will pay for postage and a consulting firm to compile the data.



The registry will attempt to make up for the county’s inept record keeping. The county claims to only have records of drilled wells back to the 80s, and they are not in a database. One imagines dusty cardboard boxes in the basement at Environmental Health. The plan is to create the registry over a three year period and eventually charge an undetermined amount relative to the size of every well casing, which is an inaccurate way to figure out how much water is being used. Some people have large well casings and only use the water in their homes, while others with the same size use powerful pumps to extract the maximum possible to irrigate.

How about charging for the actual amount of water used? Monitoring and metering. Guess who’s against that? The people who use the most, of course. Domestic use is so minimal it shouldn’t even be part of the conversation. As my friend Jack Pratt pointed out, according to the Tehama County Groundwater Sustainability Plan 2022 Annual Report, the agricultural sector removed an increase of 20,000 acre feet from the Tehama County Water Basin from 2020 to 2021. Up from 120,000af to 140,000. Most households use between .5 – 1 acre feet a year, meaning the ag sector increased its use by as much water as 20,000 – 40,000 homes would use in one year.

The glorious precipitation we’re getting will help the dry well folks more than anything our Groundwater Commission has done, although 98% of the state is still suffering with drought.

2022 Annual Report

If corporate orchardists can get enough surface water for their thirsty little nuts this summer, they won’t be forced to draw as much water from their deep production wells, which will in turn help the shallower domestic wells by not sucking the water right out from under them. That might buy us a little time.

And time is exactly what the Groundwater Commission wants. In a recent LA Times article, Tehama’s Groundwater Sustainability Agency Executive Justin Jenson was quoted as saying, “There’s going to have to be some amount of tolerance for taking time to fix these issues. The immediate response stuff can only go so far to buy time, but eventually we’ll have to put in infrastructure that resolves these issues, and that could take 10 to 20 years. Those are really the keys to actually resolving the problem as opposed to Band-Aiding it.”

Tolerance? Really? So allowing practically unrestricted drilling and pumping for an additional 10-20 years while you figure out an infrastructure plan is the answer? “Band-Aiding” the problem was a reference to the state getting involved in water deliveries to households with dry wells. Jenson forgot to mention that deliveries also enable production pumpers to keep using as much as they want without losing sleep over leaving their neighbors high and dry.

The newcomers to the board of supervisors, Matt Hansen and Pati Nolen, have made it clear they want change in the way our groundwater is “protected”. The Groundwater Commission is overpopulated with folks who profit from unrestricted access to water. Hansen and Nolen know this and are not down with it at all, but they are not out to destroy the lives of small farmers, despite what you may have read.

Matt Hansen – photo courtesy appeal-democrat.com

Pati Nolen

The GC has created bylaws that give themselves more power than they should have. Quick review of the set-up. The Groundwater Sustainability Agency consists of the GC, the Executive (Jenson) and the Flood Control and Water Conservation District, which is the board of supervisors wearing their cute water hats. Ultimately, the FCWC has the final say on anything the GC presents, but voted to pass bylaws that reduced their own authority, which is crazy.

For example, the FCWC may only consider nominees to the GC that the GC puts before them. Say a nut grower and a person with a dry well both apply for an opening on the commission. The commission would choose one – guess which – and only that nominee would be presented to the FCWC.

The bylaws also allow Supervisor District Reps to serve if they don’t live in that district. The D3 rep, Bart Fleharty, lives in D1. Additionally, the bylaws say that no sitting member of the commission may be removed without a four-fifths vote of the FCWC, which made it impossible to remove someone with the old board in place. The point is that the GC has done more to protect their own power than our groundwater.

In what direction will the new FCWC (supes) take the GSA? They have the power to disband the GC, which was assembled to create our Groundwater Sustainability Plan and did a crappy job. It will almost certainly be rejected by the state, as we see happening to other counties with similar plans.

Should they dissolve the GC? Maybe, but the bylaws need to be rewritten at the very least and some dry well folks and water experts need to apply to serve if the FCWC opts to keep it.

The new, improved board of supervisors finally takes its place on the dais this coming Tuesday. Last Tuesday was the swearing in at the old courthouse. I arrived 3 minutes late – there was snow up here – and missed the whole thing. There was a huge crowd and it warmed my cold little heart to see all the hugs and smiles.

The swearing in ceremony – photo by George Johnston – Red Bluff Daily News

In closing, I want to publicly thank former Sheriff Dave Hencratt for his years of service to Tehama County. We haven’t always been friendly, but I came to respect and like him over time.

Retired (by choice) Sheriff Dave Hencratt – Tehamaso.org

During the Big Goodbye at the Dec. 20, 2022 supes meeting, every retiring official and employee was acknowledged and thanked. Except Sheriff Hencratt, who had a less than genial relationship with forced retirees Dennis Garton and Bob Williams. I don’t know whose idea it was to snub him – he may have declined – so let’s do it together, shall we? One, two, three…”Thanks, Sheriff Dave!” Good job everyone – I could hear you all the way in Manton.

If you appreciate 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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