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Well drillers warn of shutdowns

They want state to delay required engine upgrades

By John Holland
jholland@modbee.com
Water well drillers say they will have to idle some of their rigs if the state goes through with new limits on air emissions.
They are seeking a delay in rules set to take effect Jan. 1 for some of the diesel engines that power the rigs.
The drillers say buying new engines to comply with the rules would be expensive and the result could be fewer wells when California needs all the water it can get.
"If you have to park these rigs, you won't be able to drill wells with them," said Tom Weimer, president of Howk Systems, a Modesto irrigation and pump company.
He and other members of the California Groundwater Association are backing Assembly Bill 1416, which would delay the rules for five years.
The bill, introduced last month by Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, would apply to equipment used for drilling, reconstruction and maintenance of wells and pumps by the 960 licensed drillers in the state.
"Essentially, they need to keep working and drilling," said Robin Adam, district director for Galgiani.
This is especially vital in parts of the San Joaquin Valley that are getting federal money for new wells to deal with surface water cutbacks because of drought and fish protections, he said.
"It's not an exemption," he said. "It just extends the compliance date."
The Legislature is out of regular session for the rest of the year, but Adam said the California Air Resources Board might give drillers some relief by implementing the rules gradually in early 2010.
Adam said he was not aware of any opposition to the bill. A representative of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, a leading advocate for air quality in the valley, did not return a call seeking comment.
Groundwater provides about a third of the state's water in average years and about half when drought shrinks the river supply, according to the bill.
Weimer said drillers are mostly small-business people who produce a relatively small amount of emissions while helping meet the need for water.
"Pollution is an important problem," he said. "Everybody needs to do their share, but it needs to be done carefully."

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.
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