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.
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.
One of the key criteria that the Department of Water Resources (DWR) must consider when evaluating whether a GSP is likely to achieve the sustainability goal for the basin is “Whether the interests of the beneficial uses and users of groundwater in the basin, and the land uses and property interests potentially affected by the use of groundwater in the basin, have been considered” (23 California Code of Regulations [CCR] § 355.4(b)(4)).
In regard to this and other statutory requirements to consider and address the needs of all beneficial users in GSPs, a group of NGOs, with the support of Water Foundation, collectively reviewed 31 GSPs in 16 critically overdrafted basins and subbasins.
The organizations collectively submitted detailed formal comment letters to each GSA on the public draft GSPs as well as detailed formal comment letters to DWR on the final GSP documents, within the formal public review period.
The reviews were prioritized towards those GSPs that were considered to be of high priority by our organizations due to the presence of: (1) small drinking water systems, (2) groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs), and (3) DACs. Prioritization also considered coverage and interest by the respective organizations, with the goal of selecting at least one GSP per critically overdrafted basin.
Although we did not review all 46 submitted GSPs, the findings from our analysis are both valuable to inform GSP implementation and updates in critically overdrafted basins, and to inform the development and review of GSPs currently being drafted for the remaining high- and medium-priority basins. For each of the five key elements, the following sections discuss: (1) the regulatory basis for consideration of beneficial users, (2) a summary of our review findings, (3) a discussion of how the GSPs should have more adequately addressed the key issues, and (4) a selection of “Model GSP Elements” from reviewed GSPs.
It is the goal of this analysis to share our findings in order to help inform and improve the development of GSPs for non-critically overdrafted basins, as well as to inform opportunities for improvement of GSPs for critically overdrafted basins.
As the world population grows, so does the demand for food, putting unprecedented pressure on agricultural lands. At the same time, climate change, soil degradation, and water scarcity mean that productivity of many of these lands is deteriorating. In many desert dryland regions, drinking wells are drying up and the land above them is sinking, soil salinity is increasing, and poor air quality is contributing to health problems in farm communities. “Rewilding” the least productive of these cultivated landscapes offers a sensible way to reverse the damage from intensive agriculture. These ecological restoration efforts can recover natural diversity while guaranteeing the long-term sustainability of the remaining farms and the communities they support.
This accessibly written, groundbreaking contributed volume is the first to examine in detail what it would take to retire eligible farmland and restore functioning natural ecosystems. Rewilding Agricultural Landscapes uses the southern Central Valley of California, which is one of the most productive and important agricultural regions in the world, as a case study for returning a balance to agricultural lands and natural ecosystems. This project—one of the largest rewilding studies of its kind in dryland ecosystems—has shown that rewilding can slow desertification and provide ecosystem services, such as recharged aquifers, cleaner air, and stabilized soils, to nearby farms and communities. Chapters examine what scientists have learned about the natural history of this dryland area, how retired farmland can be successfully restored to its natural wild state, and the socioeconomic and political benefits of doing so. The book concludes with a vision of a region restored to ecological balance and equipped for inevitable climate change, allowing nature and people to prosper. The editors position the book as a case study with a programmatic approach and straightforward lessons that can be applied in similar regions around the world.
The lessons in Rewilding Agricultural Landscapes will be useful to conservation leaders, policymakers, groundwater agencies, and water managers looking for inspiration and practical advice solving the complicated issues of agricultural sustainability and water management.
While most Californians enjoy the convenience of having water to drink, cook and clean, many communities, including the small underrepresented communities in California’s San Joaquin Valley, face water scarcity challenges. In Fairmead, CA, an unincorporated community 12 miles north of Madera, CA, there are approximately 1,400 residents, with 200 residents connected to the community well and the remaining residents on domestic private wells. Though demographics have shifted, Fairmead continues to be a predominantly community of color. In the 1950’s and 1960’s Fairmead was primarily African American. Today, the community is approximately 70% Hispanic and 7% African American.
The community of Fairmead was hard hit by the last statewide drought which lasted between 2012 and 2016. To this day, Fairmead continues to experience the impacts of declining groundwater levels. Victoria “Vickie” Ortiz and her family experienced first-hand the water challenges exacerbated by the most recent drought. In the summer of 2016, Vickie’s well went dry for over a year and a half. Unfortunately, this did not come as a surprise, as many of her neighbors with shallow wells had also gone dry. A growing demand of water for crop irrigation, coupled with the drought, led to groundwater overdraft.
VIDEO: “Groundwater: California’s Vital Resource” now available in Spanish, Punjabi and Hmong.
VIDEO: DWR’s assistance role in groundwater management in English and Spanish.
Draft of California’s Groundwater (Bulletin 118) Highlights document in Spanish and English
Frequently Asked Questions on California’s Groundwater – Update 2020:
California’s Groundwater – Update 2020 Fact Sheet
UPCOMING GROUNDWATER EVENTS: GSPs delivered, now what?; Groundwater shortcourse; IRWM Grants; 4th annual GSA summit
GRA BRANCH MEETING (FREE): Groundwater Sustainability Plans – Signed, Sealed, Delivered. Now What?
April 29, 5pm to 6:30pm
In 2020, 47 Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) were submitted to address Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) requirements in 22 basins in California. Numerous other GSPs are in development that will be submitted in 2022.
While preparation, adoption and submittal of these GSPs represents a significant achievement by the Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) involved, the reality is that the GSP submission milestone, while significant, only represents the beginning of SGMA implementation. Some lessons can be already be learned regarding the transition between GSP development and implementation.
This talk will share experiences with early-stage GSP implementations issues, regarding issues such as funding, monitoring, stakeholder engagement, coordination, and litigation.
UC DAVIS ONLINE COURSE: Introduction to Groundwater, Watersheds, and Groundwater Sustainability Plans
May 6, 13, 20, 27 and June 3, 9am to 12pm
Understanding groundwater and watersheds and how we monitor, assess, and sustainably manage these resources is critical and integral to California Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) and other water management programs. Private citizens, professionals, decision makers, executives, agency employees, and stakeholders with diverse backgrounds and in a wide variety of private, non-profit, and government responsibilities are increasingly engaged in the sustainable management and assessment of groundwater and surface water.
This online short course will review the fundamental principles of groundwater and watershed hydrology, water budgets, water quality, and water law and regulation in an intuitive, highly accessible fashion. Through real world examples, participants learn about the most common tools for measuring, monitoring, and assessing groundwater and surface water resources. We then review the key steps and elements of planning for groundwater sustainability.
Prop. 1 IRWM Implementation Grant Workshop: Round 1 Survey Results and Round 2 Concepts
May 6, 9:30 – 11:30am
Join us for a virtual workshop, co-hosted by the IRWM Roundtable of Regions and the CA Department of Water Resources. Learn about the Round 1 survey results and proposed concepts for the Round 2 grant solicitation process, which will begin this summer, making over $190 million (in remaining Prop 1 funds) available for the implementation of IRWM projects.
CONFERENCE: 4th Annual Groundwater Sustainability Agency Summit
June 9, 10
In this two-day virtual event – you’ll learn with GSAs working towards a sustainable future. The format of this virtual conference features interactive panels and round tables to get deep into the issues GSAs are facing as they work on the second year of GSP development, or are starting on implementation activities. You’ll have a chance to hear directly from DWR and SWRCB about review findings and year one implementation progress.
Sessions will focus on lessons learned from GSAs that will have completed annual reporting twice since GSP adoption, how those data management systems are really working, accessing and putting to use implementation funding, developing and designing projects for basin sustainability, and the march toward five year updates.
SGMA assistance bill moving through legislative process
“Assembly Bill 350 seeks to help farmers and ranchers navigate the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The SGMA assistance bill would provide funding for technical support for producers to help with compliance. Introduced by Assemblymember Carlos Villapudua, the bill is being sponsored by American Farmland Trust (AFT). The legislation was passed out of the Assembly Agriculture Committee with a unanimous vote and is being heard in the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee beginning April 26. … ” Read more from Ag Net West here: SGMA assistance bill moving through legislative process
DWR awards $26 million in grants to support critically overdrafted groundwater basins
“The Department of Water Resources (DWR) today awarded $26 million in grant funding for capital project investments to improve water supply security, water quality and the reliability of domestic wells – advancing access to safe, affordable drinking water. This funding provides important assistance for successful local implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which establishes a framework for managing the state’s groundwater resources and will help California be better prepared for longer, more severe droughts. “California’s current drought conditions following a second consecutive dry year speak to the importance of managing our groundwater for long-term reliability,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “Today’s funding awards further the state’s support for local leaders as they manage their groundwater supplies, particularly supporting communities at risk of drought impacts.” … ” Read more from the Department of Water Resources here: DWR awards $26 million in grants to support critically overdrafted groundwater basins
Irrigation issue report uncovers opportunity for growers to conserve water and increase profits
“Ceres Imaging, the irrigation performance management provider that uses aerial imagery and data analytics to help growers improve their irrigation practice, has released a study quantifying the extent and impact of drip irrigation issues in agriculture. Over the last several decades, a shift from spray and flood irrigation to more efficient drip irrigation systems has helped reduce water waste by specialty agriculture. However, environmental pressures and new regulations—such as California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA)—mean that growers must now become even more efficient. This new report finds that there is significant opportunity for growers to increase farm profits and conserve water by quickly detecting and correcting common issues like plugs, leaks and pressure issues. ... ” C0ntinue reading this press release from Ceres Imaging at Cision here: Irrigation issue report uncovers opportunity for growers to conserve water and increase profits
Wells dry up, crops imperiled, workers in limbo as California drought grips San Joaquin Valley
“As yet another season of drought returns to California, the mood has grown increasingly grim across the vast and fertile San Joaquin Valley. Renowned for its bounty of dairies, row crops, grapes, almonds, pistachios and fruit trees, this agricultural heartland is still reeling from the effects of the last punishing drought, which left the region geologically depressed and mentally traumatized. Now, as the valley braces for another dry spell of undetermined duration, some are openly questioning the future of farming here, even as legislative representatives call on Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a drought emergency. Many small, predominantly Latino communities also face the risk of having their wells run dry. … ” Read more from the LA Times here: Wells dry up, crops imperiled, workers in limbo as California drought grips San Joaquin Valley
Satellites detect groundwater recharge for San Joaquin Valley
“Groundwater recharge information is critical to groundwater modeling and management but is hard to observe and evaluate over large areas. Neely et al.  explore the possibility to assess aquifer flow dynamics (recharge and discharge) by evaluating spatial patterns of the amplitude and phase of seasonal deformation across the San Joaquin Valley in California for consecutive dry (2016) and wet (2017) water years. … ” Read more from EOS here: Satellites detect groundwater recharge for San Joaquin Valley
Solving the nitrogen puzzle: Measuring groundwater pollution from agriculture
” … Harter, a member of the Soil Science Society of America, is trying to solve one of the most complex puzzles in farming: how to track nitrate as it moves through farm fields. His research was recently published in Vadose Zone Journal, a publication of the Soil Science Society of America. Scientists have tried for years to predict how nitrate will flow from the surface into groundwater. That information can help farmers balance fertilizing their crops with protecting the water they and others rely on. But there are many challenges. The types of soil, crops and fertilizers can all affect this slow process. So Harter and his team designed one of the most detailed studies yet. Across a single 140-acre California almond orchard, they gathered 20 deep soil samples and installed wells to measure groundwater. Few studies have been so detailed across such a small plot of land. … ” Read more from PhysOrg here: Solving the nitrogen puzzle: Measuring groundwater pollution from agriculture
California wells will go dry this summer. ‘Alarm bells are sounding’ in the Valley
“Thousands of wells that bring water to San Joaquin Valley homes are at risk of drying up this summer, leaving families without running water for drinking, cleaning and bathing. While no one knows the extent of the threat from this second year of drought conditions, Jonathan Nelson with the Community Water Center says “the alarm bells are sounding.” Homes, farms and entire communities that rely on shallow wells as their only source of water are vulnerable to declining groundwater levels from dry conditions and agricultural pumping. ... ” Read more from the Fresno Bee here: California wells will go dry this summer. ‘Alarm bells are sounding’ in the Valley
Creating a place for nature in the San Joaquin Valley
“The San Joaquin Valley’s quest for groundwater sustainability will result in large amounts of irrigated agricultural lands being retired. A new book explores how some of these lands could be restored to natural areas that bring multiple benefits. We talked to Scott Butterfield, a senior scientist at The Nature Conservancy and one of the book’s editors, about this vision. PPIC: The book describes a vision for “rewilding” retired agricultural land. How might this work in the San Joaquin Valley? SCOTT BUTTERFIELD: “Rewilding” in the context of the San Joaquin Valley means creating functional ecosystems that support a suite of native plants and animals. We’re thinking about how to repurpose the agricultural lands that are most at threat of being retired under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) or for other reasons—lands where farming is likely no longer sustainable. … ” Continue reading at the PPIC here: Creating a place for nature in the San Joaquin Valley
San Luis Obispo County sticks with plan for new Paso Robles water basin rules
“San Luis Obispo County supervisors are proceeding with a new regulatory framework for pumping water in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin that organized agriculture opposes. The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 on April 6 to move ahead on an environmental impact report for a proposed ordinance that would replace the existing ordinance, which essentially prohibits increased pumping from the struggling North County aquifer. The new ordinance would allow a higher level of groundwater use for hopeful small farmers—allowing up to 25 acre-feet per year of unchecked pumping per property, instead of the 5 acre-feet per year currently allowed. ... ” Read more from New Times SLO here: San Luis Obispo County sticks with plan for new Paso Robles water basin rules
New front in Santa Barbara County’s pot wars
“Santa Barbara County’s most depleted water basin, the Cuyama Valley, is fast becoming the latest battleground in the fight over how — and whether — to address the negative impacts of the lucrative cannabis industry on farming and residential communities. The giant groundwater basin underlying this sparsely populated, heavily farmed, economically depressed valley is one of California’s 21 most critically over-drafted basins and the only one outside the Central Valley. For 75 years, the Cuyama Valley has been a mecca for water-intensive farming on an industrial scale — first, alfalfa, and now, carrots, a $69 million annual crop. Now there’s a newcomer on the block. More than 740 acres of outdoor cannabis cultivation has been proposed for the Cuyama Valley and is under review for zoning permits, county planners say. The industry is poised to drop new straws into the declining basin, where some of the well water is 1,000 feet deep and 30,000 years old — so old, it’s known as “fossil water.” … ” Read more from the Santa Barbara Independent here: New front in Santa Barbara County’s pot wars
“In 2014, California’s landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) promised comprehensive management of California’s groundwater. The report, based on joint analysis by Stanford University’s Water in the West and The Nature Conservancy, finds that SGMA actually suffers from several major gaps in its coverage.
Indeed, SGMA currently protects less than two percent of California’s groundwater. While SGMA covers those groundwater basins where the vast majority of pumping today occurs, it does not protect many other important groundwater sources, leaving that groundwater at risk of over-pumping, now and in the future, with no state oversight to safeguard rural domestic wells, sensitive habitats, and other beneficial uses of water.
This report, Mind the Gaps: The Case for Truly Comprehensive Sustainable Groundwater Management, details SGMA’s gaps and their consequences and recommends several ways to remedy these gaps. The gaps largely stem from the ways in which the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) defines and prioritizes groundwater basins in Bulletin 118 (California’s Groundwater). … ”
Read the report here: Mind the Gaps: The Case for Truly Comprehensive Sustainable Groundwater Management
The first SGMA groundwater market is trading: The importance of good design and the risks of getting it wrong
“A groundwater market, which caps total pumping within one or more basins, allocates portions of the total to individual users and allows users to buy and sell groundwater under the total cap, is a promising tool for basins implementing California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
While the benefits of a cap-and-trade system for both groundwater users and regulators are potentially very large, so too are the risks.
An electronic bulletin board that introduces buyers and sellers, like craigslist.org , is not a market. Nor is a sophisticated financial application that matches participants and executes financial transactions. A water market is a complex interaction of individuals and institutions — the product of a large number of people, structures, operational mechanisms and rules. Without careful design, a water market can do harm.. ... ”
Read more from California Agriculture here: The first SGMA groundwater market is trading: The importance of good design and the risks of getting it wrong