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Group Rallies Behind Groundwater Concerns
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Last fall when some citizens became concerned about massive pumping of local groundwater in the area, they gathered and the group of diverse, all-volunteer neighbors formed an action group called the Stanislaus Water Coalition. (SWC).

Concerns about over drafting of the county’s groundwater basin, the recent surge in large agricultural irrigation wells and the continuing drought launched the group in the fall under the name Eastside Groundwater Coalition. Its initial public meeting in October drew hundreds of people, and a core group of community members has been meeting regularly since then.

“Instead of Eastside Groundwater Coalition we wanted a name to be more inclusive within the community,” said coalition vice president Sharon Getchel of Oakdale.

The group’s purpose according to Getchel is to seek responsible and sustainable water equality for all – large and small. The group believes there is an urgent need for Stanislaus County to insure that there is a fair and equitable way of sharing the groundwater that all depend upon.

“The SWC believes groundwater regulations are long overdue,” Getchel said. “We expect our elected officials to develop water policies and regulations that will protect our groundwater.”

The county has hired Walter Ward to be its water resources manager, responsible for planning, organizing and overseeing use of the county’s water resources. A Water Advisory Committee and Technical Advisory Committee have been appointed, and will be studying, evaluating and making recommendations to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.

In January, Walter Ward was named as Stanislaus County’s first water resources manager. In February, a Water Advisory Committee and Technical Advisory Committee were appointed to study, evaluate, and make recommendations to the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.

Getchel said she hopes the coalition is a step in the right direction because waiting for water protection policies is not an option.

“Up until now our groundwater has been a ‘can’t-see-it’ issue,” Getchel said. “What we are finding is that due to the greater demands on our groundwater, there is an urgent need for our local officials to create and improve the management of our water.”

The SWC is stressing that good water management should include an integrated program of groundwater monitoring and recharge in order to achieve a long-term sustainability.

The coalition recently formalized its organization by electing officers. Its board of directors includes Neil Hudson, Sharon Getchel, John Booker, Gail Altieri, Mike Tozzi, Bill Smith, Joyce Reed, Emerson Johnson and Rita Clark.

The coalition group also is forming a political action committee so it can raise and spend funds to advocate for its issues.

As part of its efforts to quantify Stanislaus’ groundwater situation, the coalition mapped the locations of the more than 200 new wells county officials approved from July 25 to Dec. 11, 2013. The map shows clusters of big irrigation wells going into rural land northeast of Oakdale and the far eastern edge of Stanislaus County.

That map and other data are expected to be shared during the coalition’s town hall meeting at 7 p.m., Tuesday, March 18 at the Bianchi Community Center, 110 S. Second Ave., Oakdale.