A stern warning issued to the audience by North San Joaquin Water Conservation District board president Tom Hoffman at the beginning of Wednesday's town hall meeting proved unnecessary as experts, the board and audience members calmly discussed the region's groundwater problems and possible solutions.
"I expect everyone to be civil," he said at the start of the meeting. "There is no reason to be rude or use profanity."
Hoffman threatened to kick anyone out of the meeting who didn't respect the ground rules.
District meetings are commonly contentious and peppered with heated exchanges between board members and audience members, but Wednesday was a shift from the ordinary as several experts discussed the area's options with the attentive audience.
Speakers agreed that a combination of in-lieu and groundwater recharging is required to solve the region's groundwater crisis. However, obtaining funding for building infrastructure is a hurdle the district must overcome. The speakers agreed inaction was not a choice and the area's groundwater needed attention immediately.
"It's kind of scary," said Brandon Nakagawa, a water engineer for San Joaquin County as he showed computer-generated models of what the region's groundwater basin could look like several decades from now if current patterns continued.
Lower groundwater levels could lead to water being contaminated with chloride and harming crops, he said.
While he said he wasn't trying to alarm the audience, Kevin Kauffman, general manager of Stockton East Water District, echoed Nakagawa. "The ground isn't sinking like in Bakersfield," he said. "But if we don't act on it, that's what we are looking at."
Kauffman quickly followed his statement by saying it isn't dire that every district project be approved, but action is necessary.
"I'm not saying this will happen if North San Joaquin doesn't do a certain project," he said.
Kauffman related the district's troubles with groundwater recharge to Stockton East's, which has a 35,000 acre-foot allotment of water annually, but is only able put 7,000 acre-feet a year into the ground. Stockton East's troubles, like the district's, stem from struggles to obtain funding for infrastructure to deliver more surface water and lessen the need for groundwater pumping.
Another water expert spoke in general terms about groundwater.
"Groundwater is like a bank account, if take more out than you put in, you will have a lower balance," said Thomas Harter, director of the UC Cooperative Extension Groundwater Hydrology Program. "It will be a matter of decades, not weeks or months, to refill the basin."
The board briefly discussed Measure C, the upcoming ballot initiative that would enable the district to start the process necessary to impose and collect a fee to pump groundwater. Packets containing information about the measure were available for all participants as well.
One participant at the meeting was pleased with the outcome and said it was beneficial that cooler heads emerged.
"It was the most informative meeting of the district's I've ever been to," said Joe Valente of Kautz Farms.
Besides a calmer environment, the endorsements of Measure C from the San Joaquin Farm Bureau and the Stockton East Water District are also key to the district's future success, he said.
"We need to forget the past and move forward," Valente said. "People are finally understanding the situation."
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at jordang @lodinews.com.