Thursday, February 11, 2016
It's all about water
The first week in March, residents of my area will have the chance to vote either for or against formation of a new water district to manage the dwindling groundwater levels in our basin. All over the county there are "Yes on Water District" and of course "No on Water District" signs.
The conflict has been civil thus far, with both sides respectfully disagreeing with the other. My boss, for instance, is a "vote yes" kind of guy, as most vineyard owners are. We, owning just under two acres, are a "no" family. It's not so much the idea of a water district we're against -- a different district make-up and we probably would have voted yes for it -- it's just that we're uncomfortable with the make-up of members and how they are chosen.
If no water district is chosen, the County will end up managing the basin, something they've said they are prepared and ready to do.
Anyway, the proposed district's make-up goes like this: Three members are homeowners, voted in by other homeowners. The other nine seats are chosen via vote for slots representing the size of the acreage you own. So there are three slots for large landowners, three for medium landowners, and three for small landowners.
Wherein lies the problem. Because a "small" landowner is defined as owning 30 acres or less. Unfortunately most of the real "small" landowners here -- the ones whose wells have been going dry -- own 5 acres or less.
Everyone I personally know who owns over 20 acres is growing something on it -- either alfalfa, wine grapes, or olive trees. And members will be chosen by voters being allowed one vote per acre. Meaning that the business people growing wine grapes on their 30 acres will have 30 votes, versus our two votes for our small holding of just two acres. Thus, the category that should be fighting for the little guy probably will not be, as they're not so little after all.
One morning at work about six months ago I met a very lovely older gentleman who owns a small winery and 30 acres of land not far from where we are. We had a very respectful discussion about water and water rights. His position is identical to that of most of the larger landowners who are growing something on their land -- they consider the water under their property to be theirs, to use as they wish.
In his words, "The day someone comes to my gate with a meter they want to put on my well -- so they can know how much water I'm using -- is the day I meet them at the gate with a shotgun. It's my water and I'll use it as I please." This is an exact quote.
I tried mentioning to him that the aquifer under our feet was more like the air we breathe -- his air does not stay directly on his property for his use, as air flows. The water flowing underground onto his property comes from somewhere and (if there's any left) goes somewhere else -- probably to his neighbor's. It didn't matter. I think since all he could see from his back patio was his land and his vineyard, he also believes it all must be his water underground, too. And so we elected to disagree on the topic of water rights.
But that gentleman could very well end up representing us "small" landowners on the new water district board, should it go through. He's got 30 votes after all. If he decides to run, he'll get lots of help with election costs from his business friends, who are larger grape-growers he's chummy with who would probably love to see him on the board, due to his sympathies towards large landowner water usage. And that scares me.
So I will be voting "no" on the new water district, because, although County control is not ideal, I'm more confident they will take our needs into account than a grape grower whose livelihood relies on them being able to use water, at will, to keep their tonnage weights up and their profits good. If there were endless water, that would not be an issue, but until we have a permanent solution in hand for our water woes, conservation is the order of the day -- for everyone, whether you own 2 acres or 2,500.
I'm not confident that a "fox guarding the hen house" situation is what's needed here.