Balancing the state’s groundwater supplies for a sustainable future may not be easy due to severe drought and ongoing economic challenges facing farmers. “We’ve got the lowest prices and highest production costs and the least-reliable water supply that we’ve had since I’ve been farming,” said Bill Diedrich of Firebaugh, who farms row crops and permanent crops on the west side in Madera and Fresno counties. “We’ve had one or the other but not all three at the same time.”
People and companies are competing for the world’s most basic resource – water- in California. We’re in Madera County, California, where a never-ending drought is pitting citizens against corporations.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) made the County of Madera responsible for groundwater management for the more than 200,000 acres that are not part of an irrigation or water district (the “white areas”) in Madera County. Like many regions in the Central Valley, Madera County is heavily groundwater dependent. The average annual shortage in the Madera subbasin alone is approximately 165,000 acre-feet per year, a number calculated over a 50-year period to account for both wet and dry periods.
Madera County is running out of time as groundwater levels plummet to new depths.
Wells are going dry everywhere. Drillers have months-long waitlists. Residents are scrambling for water tanks. And farmers will soon face a reckoning after agriculture’s footprint, particularly nut trees, has more than doubled in the past 50 years — far outpacing irrigation supplies.
There’s growing consensus among farmers, county officials and residents that Madera’s groundwater problem will be solved mainly by cutting water demand, not by waiting for more dams to be built or even recharging excess water into the aquifer.
On Sunday evening, a well motor failed in a Madera Ranchos community water system that serves around 1,000 homes. Last week, another well pump stopped working in Parksdale, southeast of Madera. Neither community has lost water service. Both are experiencing low pressure. Madera County Public Works runs both water systems. From Madera Acres to the Bonadelle Ranchos, private wells are running dry at an alarming rate. Self-Help Enterprises, an organization that supports communities with water challenges, has been tracking the problem.
Residents of Fairmead, California worry they are on the brink of losing water service, as the town’s only community well shows signs it may fail before a new one can be built.
After years of planning, the Madera County Board of Supervisors on Aug. 11 approved an engineering contract to design and manage upgrades to the system, including a new well to serve more than 500 people connected to the community water system.