Farmers wary of state regulating groundwater

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - The state of California uses more groundwater than any other state in the union, but it's also the only state in the West that doesn't have any regulations to make sure wells don't run dry.

Agricultural leaders in Kern County is doing their best to produce crops during another year of drought. At this point, farmers have given up on El Nio bringing through any rain, forcing them to rely even more on groundwater.

"We're panicked," said Beatris Sanders of the Kern County Farm Bureau. "It's incredibly vital. We can't live without it. We can't farm without it. We can't produce food."

Steve Paul, a farmer in Wasco, said this has been a concern for years.

"Unfortunately, now it's always in a crisis situation where people respond and react. If we just keep pumping the way we're pumping, there won't be any water," he said.

Members on both sides agree that something needs to be done to prevent these wells from running dry.

Lawmakers say that California relies on groundwater more than any other state, around 60 percent of its total water supply during dry years.

The Kern County Water Agency doesn't want the state to step in.

"Having some state assistance would be helpful for everybody, as long as it's assistance and not regulation," said Curtis Creel, the assistant general manager for Kern County Water Agency.

One of the bills on the floor right now is SB 1168, proposed by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Augora Hills. The Kern County Farm Bureau agrees with the Kern County Water Agency. They think that the bill might not be best for an area that relies almost exclusively on groundwater.

"There will not be any easy solution," said Sanders. "It isn't the best deal for Kern County. Our best outcome will be if the state lets us manage our groundwater locally."

Kern County Water Agency officials say they have taken their own precautionary measures by creating a groundwater management committee, which includes all of the water districts in Kern County.

"There's no question, they will not be able to access as much water as has been accessed in this year," said Creel. "Whether the state steps in or not."