Do you drink water? Do you use it for any of the activities in your life?
I ask because I serve on a water district board, and to me, water is pretty important. I thought it might be important to you, too.
I’ve read commentaries recently that say we shouldn’t worry about water when we consider the possibility of a massive increase in high intensity petroleum operations in our county. I beg to differ.
Three techniques: hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” high temperature cyclic steam injection, and acidization, done individually and in combination, are the oil extraction processes causing the most damage nationwide, through spills, leaks, “mishaps,” and just normal operations. Contamination to above-ground and below-ground water supplies has happened in every part of the country where these operations take place. Lakes, rivers, creeks, reservoirs, private water wells, and community groundwater basins have all been fouled. And by fouled I mean seriously, significantly and irreparably contaminated. You may have seen news stories about people who discovered to their horror that they could light their tap water on fire because of methane gas escaping from nearby fracking operations. As others have noted, when the safety of your drinking water becomes, literally, a burning question, it changes everything, for everyone.
I do not want to see anything like that happen here. In the area I serve, the Goleta Valley, our water district will rely on the groundwater basin to supply upward of 40 percent of the water we deliver to our customers in the coming year. Throughout Santa Barbara County, from Santa Maria to Carpinteria, groundwater basins are precious local resources. We all rely upon them and will rely on them much more heavily if the drought doesn’t ease.
The oil industry proposes thousands of new wells, countywide, that would use enormous amounts of water and then throw that water away, in disposal wells that would remove it from use forever. I don’t know of any water district in the county that has that kind of water “to spare.”
In my opinion, anything that adds risk to our water supply is not our friend. When a single industry — whatever that industry might be — proposes bringing into Santa Barbara County a massive amount of activity that has time and again contaminated and used up water supplies elsewhere, it is time for extreme caution and, yes, common sense. It makes no sense to allow that risk.
Despite what oil industry spokespeople say, state regulations will not provide necessary protections. The state agency charged with monitoring oil and gas activities is not staffed to deal with a massive increase in high intensity oil activity, and it operates on a complaint-driven basis. That means that when something bad is brought to its attention, that “something bad” has already happened. That’s not protection; it’s too late at that point.
So let me ask you again: Do you drink water? Or take showers? Or grow tomato plants on your lanai? Are you a farmer, or rancher, or someone involved with the thousands of local businesses that rely on safe, clean water every day? Are you willing to sacrifice the security of your water supply for the benefit of one industry and the international companies telling you to just go ahead and risk everything for them?
This is the moment when the citizens of Santa Barbara County can do something truly meaningful to protect our shared water supply. And that is to vote “yes” on Measure P.
Lauren Hanson is a member of the Goleta Water District Board of Directors and serves as president of the Cachuma Operation & Maintenance Board.