Groundwater hearings ‘not practical’

San Joaquin County supervisors today agreed to oppose drought-rushed groundwater reform legislation, and to support state intervention only in the most severe cases.

But some growers wanted the county to go even farther.

Henry Van Exel, a grower in the Woodbridge Irrigation District, proposed last month that the county convene formal hearings “to gather evidence of why the state needs this authority and what would be contained in the legislation.”

The Department of Water Resources and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration would be invited to offer testimony, under oath, regarding “why the state should take control and tax private ground water wells,” Van Exel wrote in his proposal.

“The hearings could be held in Stockton but also in Sacramento at one of the downtown convention centers where farmers, members of the public, and others could present sworn testimony,” he wrote. “(The) San Joaquin County District Attorney could act as the hearing officer… With several of the Board of Supervisors acting as the hearing committee panel.”

Asked by Supervisor Bob Elliott about the viability of this plan at today’s meeting, County Counsel David Wooten said it simply wasn’t an option.

The board is primarily a policy making body, Wooten said. That policy is supposed to guide legislation through the efforts of lobbyists and elected officials at the state level.

“This body is not set up as an investigative body” with authority to call witnesses or bring in the district attorney to preside, Wooten said.

He concluded the proposed hearing was “simply not practical or legal to conduct… It would be more appropriate to have hearings at the state legislative level to make people more aware. The Board of Supervisors, really, has limited authority.”

Read Van Exel’s proposal here.

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    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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