DWR GROUNDWATER REPORT: Groundwater Levels Continue to Rebound from Last Drought

From the Department of Water Resources:

California’s climate is the most variable of any state, historically swinging from dry to flood conditions with climate change intensifying these swings. Although three of the last four water years have been above normal with 2017 and 2019 standing out as some of the wettest on record, the last decade has had a majority of the years below normal precipitation and include the timeframe of the state’s most recent drought.

Although Spring 2019 groundwater levels have mostly recovered from the past one to three years, they have not fully recovered to pre-drought conditions throughout the state as shown in the five- and 10-year time periods. At this time, there is insufficient data coverage to determine the long-term effects of the drought in some subbasins throughout the state; however, since CASGEM reporting requirements began in 2011, statewide data coverage has improved in most areas except for data gaps in Tulare, Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Imperial counties.

Click here to read the full report.

REPORT: California’s governance innovation for groundwater sustainability

For the past several years, California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act has been the talk, not only of the town and of the state, but also of the national and international groundwater and environmental policy community.

What’s the big deal?

SGMA fundamentally changes groundwater management in California – a big deal to be sure. Equally important, as we discuss in a recently published paper, is the broader conceptual significance of the SGMA experiment. That significance lies in SGMAs governance structure.

One key challenge for the authors of SGMA was navigating the complex distribution of authority over water and land in the state. To achieve this, SGMA bridges state agencies, local agencies, and outside entities, providing a role for all of them in governance. Understanding this complex system of simultaneous governance processes is important for policy makers striving to successfully implement the new law, and for decision makers at all levels who are adapting to the new regime.

This post very briefly summarizes our paper.

ACWA releases technical framework for increasing groundwater replenishment

The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) has prepared A Technical Framework for Increasing Groundwater Replenishment in response to a growing need to promote groundwater replenishment activities as a strategy to maintain or improve groundwater levels statewide. This framework summarizes the tools and resources and provides a narrative framework and checklist for water managers to consider as they pursue groundwater recharge projects and activities.

Click here to download this document.

For more information on groundwater recharge,
Visit the groundwater recharge page at the Groundwater Exchange.

Funding a future for water in the San Joaquin Valley

From the California Water Institute:

For all of California’s problems with surface and groundwater, the one not receiving the attention it arguably deserves is the problem of funding for new infrastructure, as well as the ongoing maintenance of existing infrastructure, much of which is now old and decaying.  Nationwide, the American Water Works Association estimates that an investment of about $1 trillion in infrastructure is needed by 2035 to make sure that Americans have access to clean drinking water (Thompson 2015).  Just achieving this in California alone would require spending approximately $30 to $160 million more a year on infrastructure, which, along with flood control and ecosystem preservation, are believed to be more poorly funded than water storage infrastructure (Hanak et al. 2014).

Where will the necessary funding come from to develop, upgrade, expand, and refurbish the water infrastructure systems in the San Joaquin Valley?

Read the California Water Institute’s first in a series of reports about funding options and strategies for water infrastructure in the San Joaquin Valley.  This first report, “Funding a Future for Water in the San Joaquin Valley: A Literature Review of Public Funding For Water Infrastructure” is available for review by clicking here. Special thanks to Professor Holyoke and his students in Fresno State’s College of Social Sciences for conducting this initial research effort.  We would also like to thank the generous contributions of our anonymous donor that graciously provided funding for this important work.  Stay tuned for the next reports.

Solutions to regional effort can only be made with regional input, we would like to hear your opinion! Please send any comments and or suggestions to this report to waterandsustainability@mail.fresnostate.edu.

Click here to download this report.

Five years into SGMA, here are five important considerations for balancing groundwater quality and quantity

From the Environmental Defense Fund:

California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), signed into law five years ago, requires local leaders to balance groundwater demand and supplies for the first time. Groundwater is an important foundation of California’s water system, and SGMA is a crucial way of strengthening that foundation and creating a more resilient future for the state.

However, balancing groundwater budgets will not be easy. And this major challenge is further complicated by the fact that activities designed to increase groundwater supplies can unintentionally cause new groundwater quality problems or worsen existing contamination.

A new working paper that Environmental Defense Fund co-authored with Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences; Green Science Policy Institute; and the Energy and Environmental Sciences Area of Berkeley Lab outlines how groundwater management activities can affect not only the quantity but also the quality of groundwater.

Our paper aims to help groundwater sustainability agencies and local communities avoid inadvertently contaminating supplies as they change management practices to comply with SGMA. In fact, it’s even possible for some SGMA projects aimed at increasing groundwater quantity to actually improve groundwater quality, too, the paper notes.

Click here to read more and download the paper.

License to pump: New web portal examines, compares and explains the permitting process of groundwater pumping across seven U.S. states.

Overpumping groundwater poses a major threat to the availability of a critical resource, especially in the arid lands of the Southwestern United States. States across the region have sought to deal with this issue through a wide variety of regulations and permitting processes. A new dashboard tool, created by affiliates from Stanford’s Water in the West program, compares groundwater withdrawal permitting – a common tool used by resource managers to limit groundwater pumping – to help plan for a more sustainable future.

“Western states have adopted a wide range of approaches towards regulating groundwater pumping, but information about these approaches are not always shared across the region. Our goal is to help parties in different states learn from what is happening elsewhere. This is particularly important in California, where local agencies are working to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” said Leon Szeptycki, executive director of Water in the West and a dashboard contributor.

Click here to continue reading at Water in the West.

“All Hands on Deck” Approach Needed to Manage Growing Water Stress in the San Joaquin Valley

New report finds at least half a million acres of farmland will need to be fallowed to balance groundwater use with supply

The San Joaquin Valley, California’s largest agricultural region and an important contributor to the nation’s food supply, is on the brink of a major transition as it seeks to balance its groundwater accounts.

Implementing the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act—which requires overdrafted groundwater basins to achieve balance between supply and demand by the 2040s—will bring great change to the valley’s agricultural sector, regional land use, and the local economy.

The pace of groundwater pumping accelerated during the 2012–16 drought. Over the past three decades, the valley’s annual groundwater deficit has averaged nearly 2 million acre-feet—or about one Don Pedro Reservoir’s worth of water a year.

Only about a quarter of this deficit can be filled with new supplies at prices farmers can afford. Ending overdraft could require taking at least 500,000 acres of irrigated cropland out of production.

These are among the key findings of a report released today by the PPIC Water Policy Center.

The new report breaks the issues into three key areas and presents priority actions for tackling them: balancing water supply and demand, addressing groundwater quality challenges, and fostering beneficial solutions to water and landuse transitions.

“The large and complex scope of the changes coming to the valley will require cooperative solutions that bring multiple benefits and get more ‘pop per drop’ from scarce water supplies,” said Ellen Hanak, director of the PPIC Water Policy Center and a coauthor of the report.

One promising solution is to increase water trading, which can significantly reduce the impacts of ending groundwater overdraft by allowing farmers to maintain the crops that generate the most revenue and jobs. If farmers can freely trade water within their basin, it will reduce the costs of this transition by nearly half. And if they can also trade more broadly across the region, it will cut their costs by nearly two-thirds.

In addition to water shortages, the valley must respond to serious water quality problems. More than 100 rural communities have persistently contaminated tap water. Valley farmers must also meet new requirements for protecting groundwater from the buildup of nitrate and salts. The most promising tool for augmenting supplies—groundwater recharge—poses some tradeoffs with water quality goals if not managed properly.

“The solutions to the valley’s water quality problems don’t fall neatly into traditional political and institutional boundaries―and with 120 new groundwater agencies, it’s gotten even more complex,” said Sarge Green, a coauthor of the report and director of the Center for Irrigation Technology at Fresno State. “Many players will need to be involved in devising long-term solutions to these complex problems.”

The lands fallowed to achieve groundwater balance could be converted to uses such as solar energy, groundwater recharge, and restored habitat. Getting the greatest benefit from idled lands will require new levels of planning and cooperation.

Governor Newsom focused on the valley’s groundwater, water quality, and poverty problems in his recent State of the State speech and included funds to address safe drinking water problems in his first budget.

The PPIC report recommends key areas where state leadership could help—including providing clarity on how much water is available for recharge, establishing a reliable funding source for safe drinking water challenges, and supporting broad planning processes, among others.

“Leadership from state and federal partners will be critical,” said Hanak. “But the valley’s future is in the hands of its residents. The stakes are high—but the costs of inaction are higher.”

The report, Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley, was supported with funding from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the TomKat Foundation, the US Department of Agriculture, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Water Foundation. In addition to Hanak and Green, it was authored by Alvar Escriva-Bou, a research fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center; Brian Gray, a senior fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center; Thomas Harter, the Robert M. Hagan Endowed Chair in Water Management and Policy at UC Davis; Jelena Jezdimirovic, a research associate at the PPIC Water Policy Center; Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis; Josué Medellín-Azuara, associate professor at UC Merced; Peter Moyle, associate director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis; and Nathaniel Seavy, a research director at Point Blue Conservation Science. A public event on the report’s findings will take place at Fresno State on February 22.

Recharge Roundtable Call to Action

From UC Water and the Groundwater Resources Association:

There are only two ways to reduce groundwater overdraft: decrease pumping or increase recharge.

While addressing California’s overdraft will certainly require both actions, we convened a meeting of water management experts around groundwater recharge. The goal of the “Recharge Roundtable” was to address California’s severe groundwater overdraft problem through actions that would produce substantial increases in recharge in the next five years.

As a collaboration between the Groundwater Resources Association of California and the University of California Water Security and Sustainability Research Initiative, we aimed to motivate focused actions that effect large quantities of recharge and produce regional benefits. The Recharge Roundtable participants and organizers produced a call to action, organized around six key questions and related action steps:

  1. How much water is hydrologically available for recharge?
  2. How much water can be recharged in different hydrogeologic environments?
  3. What are the legal and regulatory bottlenecks, and how can they be eliminated or reduced?
  4. How can hundreds to thousands of recharge projects be incentivized?
  5. What changes in reservoir reoperation and conveyance are needed?
  6. What are the water quality benefits and concerns for recharge?

It is increasingly obvious that tantalizing possibilities for increasing recharge to California’s aquifers exist, yet state and local water agencies and stakeholders are not sufficiently prepared to capitalize on those possibilities. This call to action is intended to help our state prepare.

Download the Call to Action:Recharge Roundtable Call to Action: Key Steps for Replenishing California Groundwater (Updated January 2019)

RESEARCH BRIEF: AquaCharge: A Design Tool for Balancing Groundwater Management Trade-Offs

From Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment:

“Many arid regions face groundwater security and reliability challenges, such as overdraft and climate change-driven precipitation shifts. Increasingly, water managers are considering recharging aquifers using stormwater and recycled water–Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR). These projects are hindered by a lack of tools to evaluate system design costs and trade-offs. Stanford researchers have developed AquaCharge, a planning tool that can optimize system costs and performance to help water managers make more informed decisions about how MAR can fit into water management strategies. … ”

Read this research brief here:  AquaCharge: A Design Tool for Balancing Groundwater Management Trade-Offs

The stormwater opportunity

From the Pacific Institute:

“Navigating around puddles that form on streets and in parking lots after a rainstorm can be a nuisance. But this water, technically known as stormwater, has the potential to become an important water supply for many Californian communities. For example, one study showed enough potential supply from stormwater in major urban and suburban centers in California to annually provide millions of gallons for the recharge of local aquifers.

In addition to providing valuable water supply, effective stormwater management can help reduce local flooding and prevent trash and other pollution from getting into streams or the ocean. What’s more, many stormwater capture projects have further co-benefits, such as providing habitat, reducing urban temperatures, reducing energy use, creating community recreation spaces, and increasing property values.  … ”

Read more from the Pacific Institute here:  The stormwater opportunity