The Institutional Dimensions of Groundwater Recharge: A Special Collection

Guest Editors:

Anita Milman, Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts Amherst, USA and Michael Kiparsky, Wheeler Water Institute, UC Berkeley, USA

INTRODUCTION: Groundwater pumping exceeds naturally occurring recharge in many regions of the world. The resulting impacts to groundwater systems adversely affect human and environmental systems. Climate change adds urgency, as the combination of more extreme flood and drought regimes coupled with intensifying demand further push groundwater resources out of balance. In many or most groundwater basins, some reduction in groundwater extraction will be necessary to reduce outflows from stressed basins. Increasing inflows to these basins through Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) is increasingly looked to as a mechanism to help bring aquifers into sustainable balance.

In this special collection, we examine deployment of MAR in examples from around the USA to illustrate the range of institutional approaches used as well as how those relate to the drivers and objectives of MAR. The overarching impetus for this work is the recognition that water managers often anecdotally agree that institutional elements are as important, or more important, than technical challenges to MAR in many cases.

Articles include the Kern Water Bank, Orange County Water District, and Recharge Net Metering in the Pajaro Valley.

Access all articles at the UC Press by clicking here.

Can Managed Aquifer Recharge Mitigate Drought Impacts on California’s Irrigated Agriculture? The Role for Institutions and Policies

MAR is a set of practices and institutions that allows the recharge of water of various types and qualities (surface water, recycled wastewater, and even groundwater from different locations) into a given aquifer. Therefore, it can reduce subsidence (pumping-induced land sinking) damages, prevent saline water intrusion, protect wetland habitat, provide flood protection, and more.

In this work, we examine the role of MAR in the Kings Groundwater Basin. Using several climate-change scenarios, we evaluate how MAR applicability is impacted by possible institutional arrangements and regulatory policy interventions.

Click here to read this paper from the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, University of California.

New Stanford-designed tool could guide floodwater management and combat ongoing drought

Floodwaters are not what most people consider a blessing. But they could help remedy California’s increasingly parched groundwater systems, according to a new Stanford-led study. The research, published in Science Advances, develops a framework to calculate future floodwater volumes under a changing climate and identifies areas where investments in California’s aging water infrastructure could amplify groundwater recharge. As the state grapples with more intense storms and droughts, stowing away floodwaters would not only reduce flood risks but also build more water reserves for drier times.

“This is the first comprehensive assessment of floodwater recharge potential in California under climate change,” said study lead author Xiaogang He, an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering at the National University of Singapore who pursued the research as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s Program on Water in the West.

Click here to read more at Stanford News.

Video: Using vineyards to recharge California’s groundwater

Drought has become an issue in California, and one way to help that are vineyards. California Ag Net explains how researchers are using farmland to recharge groundwater.”

Watch video segment from RFD TV here: Using vineyards to recharge California’s groundwater

For more on groundwater recharge, visit the groundwater recharge page at the Groundwater Exchange by clicking here.

Attractive and beneficial: Groundwater recharge basins can be both for people and wildlife

With the lack of rain this fall and winter, comes anxiety about California’s water future for people, wildlife, and agriculture in California’s Central Valley.

Our rainfall not only produces benefits at the surface like wildlife habitat and food crops, but it also recharges our stores of water below ground, otherwise known as groundwater aquifers. Even though we can’t see groundwater, and many of us don’t quite understand what it is, we all depend on it for the fresh water that we drink and use to grow our food. 

California is facing one of the largest resource challenges ever: how to recharge or refill a depleted water table in the Central Valley, a hugely important region for wildlife and agriculture. … ”

Read more from Point Blue here: Attractive and beneficial: Groundwater recharge basins can be both for people and wildlife

For more on groundwater recharge, visit the groundwater recharge page at the Groundwater Exchange by clicking here.

Water right permitting options for groundwater recharge: Avoiding unintended consequences

“Efforts to boost groundwater recharge are critical to making California’s limited, and increasingly volatile, water resources go further. Recharge is playing a growing role in maintaining groundwater as an effective drought reserve and in slowing or reversing the effects of years of unsustainable groundwater pumping.

But implementing recharge projects is not easy. Water managers face a range of hurdles. Even with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) on the books, and the increasing availability of technical assistance, local decision makers are left mostly to their own ingenuity to figure out how to shore up groundwater resources to meet future needs.

Many Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) expect recharge to help them meet their responsibilities under SGMA. But the details of how they will implement recharge projects are often unclear. … “

Click here to continue reading this article at Legal Planet.

When does a groundwater recharge project NOT need a water right?

“Groundwater recharge projects already play an important role in California. That role is about to expand rapidly, as local groundwater managers begin to take more concrete actions to meet their responsibilities under California’s landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

As we mentioned in our last post, an important part of developing a successful recharge project is securing a source of water and the legal right to use it.  In that post, we described the surface water right permit options administered by the State Water Resources Control Board (Water Board) that are potentially available for new groundwater recharge projects.  We also mentioned the central role of permitting, and water rights oversight more broadly, in ensuring that water diversion and use doesn’t harm other water users or uses.

But is a water right always necessary?  Below we explore when a recharge project might not need a water right at all (short answer: it’s complicated…and more than a little unclear)—and why it matters. … “

Click here to continue reading from Legal Planet.

Location, location, location: New tool shows where groundwater recharge will maximize benefits

From the Environmental Defense Fund:

Recharging groundwater with rain and snowmelt is one strategy water managers are embracing to help balance groundwater supply and demand and comply with the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Depending on the location, recharge can also deliver other valuable benefits, such as additional habitat for wildlife and a more resilient water supply for people.

With support from EDF, four UC Santa Barbara graduate students have developed a new mapping tool for California’s Central Valley to identify the best locations for groundwater recharge to secure these bonus benefits.

Click here to continue reading at Growing Returns.

NEW RESEARCH: Shrub encroachment on grasslands can increase groundwater recharge

From the University of California Riverside:

Grasslands across the globe, which support the majority of the world’s grazing animals, have been transitioning to shrublands in a process that scientists call “woody plant encroachment.”

Managed grazing of drylands is the most extensive form of land use on the planet, which has led to widespread efforts to reverse this trend and restore grass cover due to the belief that it results in less water entering streams and groundwater aquifers.

A new study led by Adam Schreiner-McGraw, a postdoctoral hydrology researcher at the University of California, Riverside, modeled shrub encroachment on a sloping landscape and reached a startling conclusion: Shrub encroachment on slopes can increase the amount of water that goes into groundwater storage. The effect of shrubs is so powerful that it even counterbalances the lower annual rainfall amounts expected during climate change.

Click here to continue reading this article.

Utilizing excess winter stormwater flows for groundwater recharge

Kristin Sicke is the Assistant General Manager for Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, which manages water supplies for 200,000 acres in western Yolo County, which encompasses Woodland, Davis, and the surrounding area.  The District manages a small hydroelectric plant, two reservoirs, more than a 150 miles of canals and laterals, and three dams including the world’s longest inflatable rubber dam.  In this presentation from the 2019 Western Groundwater Congress, Ms. Sicke describes the District’s efforts to use winter stormwater flows for groundwater recharge in the Yolo subbasin.

Click here to read this article.