By Lois Henry
Gaylord Beeson was spooked by what he heard at a landowners meeting put on by the Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District in May.
Massive pumping operations by the Kern Water Bank and Kern County Water Agency were draining away Rosedale's groundwater, according to Rosedale district officials.
WHO TO CALL
Landowners in Rosedale who are having problems with dry wells, or wells that have had to be lowered because of the dropping water table, should call the Rosedale-Rio-Bravo Water Storage District.
The district has filed two lawsuits against water banks they believe are pumping groundwater so fast it may be draining groundwater from beneath adjacent lands.
The district may include landowners whose wells have gone dry as "real parties in interest" to the lawsuits.
To learn more call the district at 589-6045.
People's wells were going dry.
The district has since filed two lawsuits against the water banks.
"That scared me," Beeson said. "I stood up at the meeting back then and said it was immoral. And it is. They (the water banks) are stealing our water."
On Thursday, his worst fears came true.
Beeson's western Rosedale community's well went dry.
That well served 32 homes near Rosedale Highway and Wegis Avenue, according to Beeson's wife, Pamela Kaspar.
Homes still have a small trickle through an emergency tie-in with Vaughn Water Company, but only enough to keep the toilets running, Kaspar said.
The Goose Lake well is 260 feet deep. It's old but they had it worked on just last year and everything was fine.
Because of its age, Kaspar said, they can't just have the well lowered. The community will have to kick in to drill a whole new well in a different location to 800 feet. Cost is about $110 a foot, plus electrical, piping and other costs.
That's a lot of money for something that didn't have to happen, not only to this community but to the dozen or so other families who've already been down this road.
"Oh my gosh! Those poor people," was Ana Lopez's reaction when she heard about this latest well going dry.
She and her husband, Paul, have been struggling to keep their home and care for their four children since their community well dried up around Christmastime.
The Lopezes are trying to save enough to hook into Vaughn's system. But it's expensive, around $10,000. Most other residents in her neighborhood have already packed up and left.
Vaughn, the largest commercial water operation in the area, isn't having the same problems because its wells are drilled to 1,200 feet, manager Michael Huhn told me. At a cost of about $2 million, that's a little out of range for most homeowners on community wells, which are sprinkled throughout Rosedale.
"No one has come to talk to us about what's going on," Ana Lopez said. "We haven't heard anything."
Unfortunately, the outlook isn't good, according to Eric Averett, general manager of Rosedale-Rio Bravo.
The area where wells are going belly up seems to be expanding, he said. Besides the Goose Lake well, he said he had calls on two other wells last week.
He expects more calls as the groundwater continues to drain toward pumping depressions created by the water banks, which are tucked along Rosedale-Rio Bravo's southern edge.
The banking projects have ceased pumping this summer as an above average snowfall year has brought more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to area farms and Southern California cities.
But the void created by previous pumping is so great it's still sucking groundwater from surrounding lands, according to Averett.
The district's groundwater expert believes it could take years before the water table stops declining beneath the Rosedale area, Averett said.
"What we're seeing now is just the initial wave of people affected."
The Kern County Water Agency disputes that its banking projects are at fault.
General Manager Jim Beck has said previously that the banks have brought in far more water than they've extracted over their years of operation.
The banks have had to take out more water in recent years, he said, because of a combination of drought and environmental rulings that restricted the amount of water growers and cities could receive from Northern California.
He said while the agency is sympathetic to landowners, no one has shown specific impacts attributable to the banking projects.
Rosedale-Rio Bravo has, however, commissioned reports that show the intensity of pumping from water banks has taken a vast amount of water in a very short time.
Between 1981 and 2006, 94,000 acre feet were pumped out of two agency banks. Between 2007 and 2009, 290,000 acre feet were pumped out of those same projects, according to Agency figures obtained by Rosedale-Rio Bravo.
The district is also concerned that traditional groundwater mounding beneath the Kern River channel has morphed into a trough that acts as a drain for surrounding groundwater.
So, even though Rosedale-Rio Bravo has brought more recharge water into the district than anytime in its history, and water is being run down the river bed this year, none of it is stabilizing the water table.
"We've brought in close to 30,000 acre feet of water and a lot of it has been recharged right next to wells that we're monitoring and we're not seeing one bit of benefit," he said.
That doesn't bode well for Beeson and Kaspar, the Lopezes and many others.
Beeson recalled how his father farmed in the area for decades until he quit because the water table had dropped more than 100 feet over a 30-year span.
"Now, we're talking about the water table dropping hundreds of feet in three years from them pumping our water out all because of greed!" Beeson said.
I think Beeson was right: It is immoral.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at people.bakersfield.com/home/Blog/noholdsbarred, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail email@example.com