State flush with water
Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed an executive order to make it easier to capture floodwater from storms to recharge and store groundwater.
This executive order follows Newsom’s order in February, which allowed the State Water Project to conserve 237,000 acre-feet of water while providing protections for Delta smelt, and allowed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to divert over 600,000 acre-feet of floodwaters for wildlife refuges, underground storage and recharge.
Leveraging water captured and stored from recent storms, the state is increasing water deliveries, now expecting to deliver at least 1.4 million acre-feet of water to local agencies that serve 27 million Californians.
With torrential rains drenching California, state water regulators have endorsed a plan to divert flood waters from the San Joaquin River to replenish groundwater that has been depleted by heavy agricultural pumping during three years of record drought.
The State Water Resources Control Board approved a request by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to take more than 600,000 acre-feet from the river and send much of that water flowing to areas where it can spread out, soak into the ground and percolate down to the aquifer beneath the San Joaquin Valley.
The amount of water that’s set to be rerouted under the plan is more than the annual supply for the city of Los Angeles. Some of the water will also be routed to wildlife refuges along the San Joaquin River starting next week, officials said.
The plan is intended to address potential flood risks, capitalize on California’s near-record snowpack and capture some of the high flows from the latest extreme storms to store water underground.
“We are taking steps to maximize groundwater recharge in a way that the state of California has never really done before,” said Erik Ekdahl, deputy director of the State Water Board’s water rights division. “This is an immense opportunity to help recharge these depleted aquifers.”
State officials said their order allows the Bureau of Reclamation to manage flood flows from Friant Dam and change points where water is diverted along the San Joaquin River.
Where water sinks into the ground and replenishes the aquifer, it could help address declines in water levels that have left families with dry wells in rural areas across the Central Valley.
Stabilizing water levels could also help alleviate the widespread problem of collapsing ground triggered by overpumping, which has caused costly damage to canals and other infrastructure.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said after the three driest years in state history, “California is taking decisive action to capture and store water for when dry conditions return.”
Newsom has sought to prioritize capturing stormwater and recharging groundwater as central pieces of his administration’s strategy for adapting to more intense water extremes with climate change. On Friday, the governor’s office announced that he had signed an executive order enabling the capture of water from the latest round of storms.
The Bureau of Reclamation manages the dams, reservoirs and canals of the Central Valley Project and sends water to contractors including large agricultural irrigation districts and other agencies. The state order allows the federal government to deliver floodwater from the Mendota Pool, a small reservoir on the San Joaquin River, to be used for replenishing groundwater.
The water, which would otherwise have flowed down the San Joaquin River, will be available for irrigation districts and other agencies to divert for replenishing groundwater for more than four months. Under temporary contracts with the federal government, they will be able to send water through canals to areas with permeable soils that allow for groundwater recharge.
Some flood waters will also pour into wildlife refuges, among them the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, Mendota Wildlife Area and Los Banos Wildlife Area.
The State Water Board said in its order that the changes allow for capturing “high flows that would otherwise go unused,” easing pressures on flood-control infrastructure and helping to address chronic declines in groundwater levels.