Opinion: Unlimited water in Big Springs?

Submitted by We Advocate for Thorough Environmental Review

We are truly concerned about what is happening with the Big Springs residents losing access to water for their domestic use. Reviewing local water history is important. The Gateway Neighborhood residents (near the Crystal Geyser plant in Mount Shasta) experienced the same water shortage issues during CocaCola – Dannon water bottling days and were rebuffed by the county. The board of supervisors told the affected households to speak to the company, who then of course said it couldn’t possibly be from their pumping ... even though they pumped more in one day than three of our neighbors pumped in a year! So, when the new CG project was proposed, our neighborhood had already experienced problems with over pumping. During the EIR process, WATER and experts urged the County and CG to include the neighborhood wells in the groundwater testing. What we got was misleading theoretical modeling and no testing of our domestic wells. Hence, our lawsuit is now pending a hearing in Appellate Court.

The Gateway Neighborhood in Mount Shasta was hurt by industrial water extraction and now it is homeowners in the Big Springs area being negatively affected. These folks are having the same issues (currently up to about 20 domestic wells affected) because reportedly their aquifer has lowered due to industrial water extraction via trucking.

Historically, Siskiyou County has taken a stance not to regulate water extraction at all: that good old “hands off approach.” In contrast, many counties in the State have strong use permit requirements for anything other than home/domestic well usage. It is time for the BOS and county to join the rest of the state. The county must not shirk its responsibility to protect its citizens and the public’s water. The policy has been to not regulate water, except to say that water cannot be trucked for use outside the county. (Sec. 3-13.101- Regulation of the extraction of groundwater for use outside the basin from which it was extracted.)  We can now see how trucking water for use “within” the county is just as dangerous. 

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The BOS just voted to amend Section 3 of the county code to put a band aid on the issue to stop this type of trucking by issuing a new order, which they haven’t enforced. It reads:

“Article 7.- Waste and Unreasonable Use. Sec. 3-13.701. Wasting Groundwater. The Board of Supervisors finds that the extraction and discharge of groundwater underlying Siskiyou County for use in the cultivation of cannabis in violation of Chapter 14 or Chapter 15 of Title 10 of the Siskiyou County Code is (1) inconsistent with Article X, section 2, of the California Constitution and Section 100 of the California Water Code, (2) constitutes the waste and/or unreasonable use of groundwater, and (3) is a public nuisance and threat to the public health, safety and welfare.”

Our understanding is that each domestic well that is drilled has to be permitted by the county. But there also needs to be rules governing water extraction for all types of industrial use. The county should not pick and choose which type of water extraction is okay and which isn’t. For example, water bottling projects are exempt by special code from even needing a permit, so they are given the red-carpet treatment.

“Sec. 10-6.4602. – Uses Permitted. The following uses shall be permitted in the M-M District: (s) Bottling works and spring and mineral water bottling works at the source.”

The Board of Supervisors cannot just go “ask” the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board for help with this matter. Clearly it is the county’s lack of a cohesive policy that is causing the issue. We need an across the board water policy so that it can be enforced by our county and domestic wells will be protected.  We need new rules on the books that protect our water sources for domestic use and farming/ranching, first and foremost.

1)   If allowed at all, wells used solely for water extraction and trucking to another location must be deemed essential for domestic use, strictly regulated and monitored; for example, trucking water to a person’s property where the well has gone dry and there is need of filling a water storage tank for domestic use.

2)   If wells are drilled and there is no home on the property within a certain time frame, the well must be formally decommissioned.

3)   And finally, the county exemption that allows water bottling to extract unlimited amounts without a permit must be removed from the books.

Water taken from one source for profit, without regard for domestic use first, should not be allowed and the county needs to take a hard look at who is benefitting:  International corporations? Unnamed illegal grows? We say people first. Water is a public trust.

Siskiyou County must join the 21st Century and care for the people. Drought, climate change, less snow, warmer weather; call it what you want. But over- pumping, given the current conditions, is the issue and the myth of “unlimited water supply” is over. We must do something proactive and protective for our citizens.