Briefs: Digging Deeper, God, Why?

newsbriefDigging Deeper

California recently joined the rest of the western states with new efforts to make water districts siphon their groundwater more sustainably. Three new bills signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 16 prompt water districts drawing from one of the state’s 500 basins to form local groundwater management agencies, and draft long-term sustainability plans together.

This will mean change locally, as most of the county’s water districts rely, at least partly, on groundwater.

“The state is encouraging everyone who has a straw in the basin to work collaboratively,” says Scotts Valley Water District General Manager Piret Harmon. “In the past, it’s been typical for people to say ‘this is my water basin.’ But there is no ‘my water’ or ‘your water.’ It’s a shared resource.”

Some basins, like the one from which Scotts Valley gets its water, are large, encompassing multiple areas. Management agencies could be composed of multiple water districts from different counties.

Such groups must form a management agency by Jan. 1, 2017, and comply with the state’s deadlines.

Once the state Department of Water Resources signs off on the proposed agencies and their plans, each basin group has a 20-year window to meet its goals. If deadlines go unmet, the resources department will step in and assume the role of the local agencies.

The new bills could make a big difference in Central California’s agricultural communities, where farmers have been digging deeper and deeper into basins this past year to feed crops during the drought.

Some agriculturalists say the bills were hastily put together, and might be too strict. Assemblymember Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville), who represents farming communities in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito Counties, abstained from voting.

“I think we could have come up with an alternative plan that would have addressed groundwater monitoring and regulation, and could have built more consensus from the agricultural community,” Alejo says.

Others welcome the chance to practice a more sustainable approach to groundwater. County Water Resources Director John Ricker suggests the law may give existing management efforts a boost.

“It could result in some restriction in use,” says Ricker via email, “but more likely will provide a funding mechanism for long-range management efforts and additional water supplies, such as recycled water.”

God, Why?

This year, UCSC students had an extra week of summer to celebrate cultural harmony.

That’s because most University of California campuses, including Santa Cruz, delayed classes a full week, so as not to conflict with the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, based on school policy updated in 2010.

“People in the UC system felt that making this change, in the years where this is a conflict with religious holidays, was a change worth making,” UCSC spokesperson Jim Burns, who has since retired, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel last January.

Classes will start Thursday, Oct. 2, instead of late September. But Oct. 2 happens to be the first day of Hajj, an important Muslim holiday—the one where all Muslims who can afford it must take a pilgrimage to Mecca. There were no talks of pushing back classes another week.

Three UC campuses currently have Jewish Studies Programs—the most recent addition being UCSC, which has been getting sizable grants for its program, including a recent $1.5 million endowment.

We’ve all heard that money talks in education. So perhaps if Muslims want to get some religious acceptance from California’s public colleges, the UC Regents might prefer that they start putting their money where their beliefs are, stop buying plane tickets, and begin writing big checks for new majors instead.

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