From E&E News:
The bottom is falling out of America’s most productive farmland.
Swaths of the San Joaquin Valley have sunk 28 feet — nearly three stories — since the 1920s, and some areas have dropped almost 3 feet in the past two years.
Blame it on farmers’ relentless groundwater pumping. The plunder of California’s aquifers is a budding environmental catastrophe that scientists warn might spark a worldwide food crisis.
“This is not sustainable,” said Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “If those aquifers continue to be depleted and if we start running out of water in these big aquifer systems, the global food system is going into meltdown mode.”
From Water Deeply:
“A “use-it-or-lose-it” system of water allocation has historically required growers in California to irrigate their land or lose their water rights, whether market forces compelled them to grow crops or not.
Now, in a significant breakthrough for the state’s water economy, a community of farmers near Ventura are about to join a new groundwater market. The buying and trading system, expected to begin by July 1, will allow farmers under the purview of the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency to fallow their own land and sell groundwater to other users willing to pay more than their crop sales would generate. This small-scale water market has been in planning stages for more than a year and is being launched as a pilot project that could eventually serve as a model for the rest of California. … “
Read more from Water Deeply here: A New Groundwater Market Emerges in California. Are More on the Way?
From Maven’s Notebook:
“In 2014 California enacted the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) which mandates that areas that depend upon groundwater achieve sustainability by 2040. Meeting the requirements of SGMA will mean a net reduction in groundwater overdraft of about 2 million acre-feet per year. The social, economic and environmental consequences—intended or otherwise—of this change in water policy are vast.
Dr. Jeffrey Mount is a Senior Fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California Water Policy Center. In this keynote speech given at the Groundwater Resources Association’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan Summit, Dr. Mount argued that the state needs to take a comprehensive look at what it is going to take to achieve groundwater sustainability and develop pathways that minimize or mitigate unwanted effects. He also noted that his speech would draw on the work of his colleagues at the Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center who have been working on the San Joaquin Valley to envision a future for the Valley under SGMA and what the consequences would be. … “
“The wet winter of 2017 brought an opportunity to test groundwater recharge—the intentional spreading of water on fields to percolate into the aquifer—as a tool for restoring groundwater levels and helping basins comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). This is especially important in the San Joaquin Valley, which has the biggest imbalance between groundwater pumping and replenishment in the state.
A key question for many valley water managers is how much water will be available for recharge in the long term. By law, only river flows in excess of what is required for environmental purposes and to supply existing water-right holders are available for recharge. A recent report by the PPIC Water Policy Center estimated how much water would be available in the San Joaquin Valley over the long term. Two earlier studies—one by two scientists at UC Davis and the other by the Department of Water Resources—estimated a maximum of about half a million acre-feet on average, which is about a quarter of the valley’s estimated deficit. The PPIC study updated these estimates in the context of current conditions and concluded that an average of more than a million acre-feet of San Joaquin River flows may be available. … “
From Water Deeply:
“In California’s agricultural heartland, the San Joaquin Valley, excessive pumping of groundwater has resulted in subsidence, damaging crucial infrastructure, including roads, bridges and water conveyance. A study last year from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, found overpumping of groundwater since the 1920s had caused parts of the San Joaquin Valley to sink as much as 28ft.
But groundwater overpumping may have another serious side effect, according to a study published June 5 in the journal Nature Communications. Researchers found that recent groundwater pumping caused an increase in the concentrations of arsenic in the aquifer. … “
Read more from Water Deeply here: Toxic Trap: Groundwater Overpumping Boosts Arsenic in California Aquifer
From Ellen Hanak at the PPIC Blog:
“California is a force of nature when it comes to almonds. The state’s farmers produce virtually the entire US almond crop and dominate the international market. As the market has grown, almonds have become California’s largest single crop—now accounting for about 12% of irrigated acreage, with more than 1.2 million acres harvested in 2016. Availability of water is clearly a major issue for the industry, since the trees must be irrigated throughout the long spring and summer dry season. At a May event on water issues organized by the Almond Board of California, I was asked for some thoughts on the water realities almond growers must grapple with in coming years. Here are three key takeaways. … “
Fromat the PPIC Blog:
“The San Joaquin Valley is ground zero for groundwater management challenges. While agriculture is the region’s predominant water user, its cities are more likely to rely on groundwater as their primary source of water. For this reason, the urban sector will need to play a bigger role in the regional effort to balance groundwater use and replenishment.
Our recent research indicates that cities in the valley lag behind agricultural districts in the intentional recharge of groundwater. That’s primarily because most have limited access to two things necessary for storing more water underground: extra surface water and unpaved land on which to spread it so it can percolate into the ground. But some cities have had success with recharge activities. Here are three methods that can serve as models. … “
From Ellen Hanak at the PPIC Blog:
“Last week a diverse group of stakeholders celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Lower Yuba River Accord—a historic agreement to improve conditions for the river’s endangered fishes, maintain water supplies for cities and farms, and reduce conflict over competing uses for water. Here at the PPIC Water Policy Center we frequently refer to the Yuba Accord as a model for modern water management in California. Here are three reasons why. … “
From Lori Pottinger at the PPIC Blog:
“First came the drought, then the floods: California has long bounced between the two weather extremes―most recently when the latest drought segued into 2017’s record-breaking rain and snow. Such “weather whiplash” could become much more common as the climate changes, according to a new study. We talked to Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA—and the study’s lead author—about what to expect.
PPIC: California already has a highly variable climate. How will this be different? … ”
From Stanford’s Water in the West:
“For local communities, complying with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), the law passed in 2014 that was California’s first statewide framework for managing groundwater, has been no easy task.
A recent study in the journal California Agriculture examined some of the challenges rising to the surface in large, agriculturally-oriented basins as local governments form groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs), particularly for agricultural water users who have been pumping groundwater with private rights for decades. These GSAs are required to develop groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) by 2020 in critically overdrafted basins, or by 2022 in other high and medium priority basins.
The analysis highlights that creating effective governance at the basin scale, while still accounting for the interests of agricultural water users, is best pursued through multi-level governance structures that include nongovernmental entities, such as nonprofits, farmers, and ranchers. … “
Read more from Water in the West here: Can California’s groundwater basins be managed collaboratively?