I was startled to see the (U.K.) Guardian had jumped into the issue of well-drilling companies' drilling logs in California. (Groundwater records should not be kept confidential in drought-stricken California; March 27). Granted, the Guardian has an American desk and routinely reports on situations in the USA that strongly impact the United Kingdom and European Union. But drilling down into an old story about record-keeping in one U.S. state struck me as a little excessive.
Yet this isn't any old U.S. state and this isn't any old drought. California's agribusiness has a big impact on the, er, 'global economy' not to mention Global Food Security, although frankly I'm still feeling my way to learning why almonds are critically important to the globe's food supply.
So on reflection I can see why the Guardian wanted to add their two cents to the dust-up about the logs, a story that a local California newspaper called the Sacramento Bee brought to public attention back in July 2014, which merited a one-line mention the next month in a National Geographic article cheerily titled, If You Think the Water Crisis Can't Get Worse, Wait Until the Aquifers Are Drained.
The logs aren't entirely confidential; they can be accessed by local and federal government agencies on a need-to-know basis. But one look at the U.S. Geological Survey schematic that the Sacramento Bee published, constructed from data in well logs, shows why they're so important. California landowners and the companies they hire to dig private wells now have an urgent need to know how many wells are being dug in their region and exactly where and how deep.
It's the same for policy organizations, scientists and engineers outside government, and journalists trying to gain better understanding of various aspects of the state's water shortage crisis. Consider subsidence in the over-pumped San Joaquin Valley for example; consider toxic well water for another.
Why the secrecy with the logs? From the Bee:
In all other Western states, such records are accessible to whomever wants to see them – from university professors to civil engineers, real estate agents to the media. But in California, well logs are barred from public inspection by a 63-year-old law written to keep data gathered by well-drilling companies from falling into the hands of competitors.