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.
Coverage by Don Wright, Water Wrights:
“The Public Policy Institute of California held a seminar on Friday, February 22, 2019 at California State University Fresno’s Satellite Student Union. “Water and the Future of the San Joaquin Valley” was the title of the day’s event. This is also the title of the report prepared by PPIC and FSU.
Things kicked off at 8:30am with delicious sausage, egg and cheese English muffin sandwiches and fresh pastries with coffee and orange juice. Why even mention this? I go to a lot of meetings and I notice when folks start with a decent breakfast the day really does go better. PPIC has a reputation for staging pretty good shows and starting with good food really tied the “ag thing” together. They did something right because the room was packed with folks standing in the aisles. There were more than 300 people is my guess. … “
Click here to continue reading at Water Wrights: PPIC Seminar Fresno State February 22, 2019
“Local groundwater regulatory agencies set up under 2014 legislation in California are discussing future rationing schemes with irrigators as they scramble to submit long-term aquifer sustainability plans to the state by a deadline of early next year.
The plans are required by January 2020 for the state’s 21 most critically overdrafted or important basins. Most of those basins are in the San Joaquin Valley, where surface water cutbacks in recent years led to an overreliance on wells. … ”
Read more from the Western Farm Press here: Agencies plan for water rationing under SGMA
“The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority meeting Thursday ended on a surprise note, when Commander Peter Benson delivered a letter from NAWS Commander Captain Paul Dale. Benson is the non-voting member representing the Department of the Navy on the groundwater authority board.
Dated Feb. 20, 2019, and addressed to the Indian Wells Valley Ground Water Authority Board of Directors, the letter states that it is intended as a formal communication that “Commander Navy Region Southwest (CNRSW), in consultation with U.S. Navy commands located within the Indian Wells Valley, deems groundwater resources as the number one encroachment concern/issue which has the potential to impact missions enabled on and around Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.”
It goes on to state that “Water sustainability is critical to NAWSCL’s mission accomplishment.” … ”
Read more from the Ridgecrest Independent here: Navy to Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority: Groundwater ‘No. 1 encroachment issue’
“The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority met at City Hall on Thursday morning, first with an hour-long closed session meeting, covering potential litigation, followed by a five-hour regular meeting.
The 2019 IWVGA budget was not approved, after several board members and a handful of residents voiced their concerns over the presentation. For starters, the budget that was presented was different from the one that was in the packet. A handful of numbers had been updated, including the total revenue (pump fee revenue and stressed counties grant revenue reimbursements) as well as a couple of lines in the expenditures section. … ”
Read more from the Ridgecrest Independent here: No budget approved, Navy weighs in at IWV Groundwater Authority meeting
Ellen Hanak, Alvar Escriva-Bou, and Sarge Green write:
“The San Joaquin Valley is on the brink of a major transition as it seeks to balance its groundwater accounts. California’s largest farming region has the state’s biggest groundwater deficit — almost 2 million acre-feet per year by our estimates.
To put it in context, that’s about one Don Pedro Reservoir’s worth of water a year. Groundwater overdraft — pumping more than is replenished over the long term — makes wells go dry, increases energy required to pump water and causes land to sink, which in turn damages major regional infrastructure. These harmful impacts have become increasingly costly to address. … ”
Read more from the Fresno Bee here: Analysis says to end Valley’s groundwater overdraft, farmland must be retired
“The city of Roseville is taking full advantage of the recent storms and water surplus going into Folsom Reservoir to fully test its groundwater storage plan. The city currently has six groundwater pumping stations that were used during the drought. But the stations have the ability to pump water back into the aquifer as well. The Folsom Dam currently has three gates open to release enough water so it has room to capture flood water. … ”
Read more from Fox 40 here: Roseville testing groundwater storage plan
Climate Change and Groundwater: Incorporating Climate Realities and Uncertainties into California’s Groundwater Planning
From the Union of Concerned Scientists and Stanford’s Water in the West:
Climate change is fundamentally transforming the way we manage water in the Western U.S. The recent Fourth California Climate Change Assessment lays out the many pressures facing water managers in California in detail. One key take-away of that Assessment is that past climate conditions will not be a good proxy for the state’s water future, and smarter strategies are needed to manage California’s water. Just one-third of the snowpack that the state has historically relied on as a natural water reservoir is projected to remain by 2100; hotter temperatures will dry out soils faster and earlier in the year; and the atmospheric rivers that already cause intense flooding in the state will likely carry more moisture as the atmosphere warms. All of this will require a transformation in the way that we, here in California and elsewhere, plan for our water future.
Continue reading at the Union of Concerned Scientists here: Climate Change and Groundwater: Incorporating Climate Realities and Uncertainties into California’s Groundwater Planning
From the Ridgecrest News Review:
The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority has continually discussed its need for additional well data needed to draft an adequate Groundwater Sustain-ability Plan for IWV pumpers. Recently, the Authority heard a brief presentation from Lee Knudtson of Wellntell, who offered an opportunity to upgrade the Authority’s well-monitoring capabilities.
“We’ve invented a tool for monitoring water levels and pumping activity from domestic wells and small ag wells,” said Knudtson. “Several federal and state agencies have adopted our technologies because they’re easy to use and less expensive.”
To continue reading at the Ridgecrest News & Review, click here: Well monitoring tech offered to Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority
The Freshwater Trust, IBM Research and SweetSense Inc. aim to make groundwater usage sustainable
From the Freshwater Trust:
The Freshwater Trust (TFT), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to protect and restore freshwater ecosystems, is partnering with IBM Research and SweetSense Inc. , a provider of low-cost satellite connected sensors, to pilot technologies which can accurately monitor and track groundwater use in one of the largest and most at risk aquifers in North America. Additional research support will be provided by the University of Colorado Boulder.
Jointly funded by the Water Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the project’s scientists and engineers will demonstrate how the blockchain and remote Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can accurately measure groundwater usage transparently, and in real-time.
The sensors will transmit water extraction data to orbiting satellites and then to the IBM Blockchain Platform hosted in the IBM Cloud. The blockchain will record of all data exchanges or transactions made in an append-only, immutable ledger. The blockchain also uses “smart contracts,” whereby transactions are automatically executed when the conditions are matched.