Reimagining our Water System: Utilizing Natural Infrastructure—Groundwater Recharge

Thursday, Oct 10th, 2019

The Northern California Water Association (NCWA) and water leaders in Northern California have appreciated the opportunity to engage with the Newsom Administration and our many partners to help develop and then implement a water resilience portfolio (portfolio) that meets the needs of California’s communities, economy, and environment through the 21st century.”

Building on the Governor’s call to “utilize natural infrastructure,” there are unique opportunities in the Sacramento River Basin to enhance and expand utilization of natural infrastructure for multiple benefits such as “forests and floodplains,” as well as advancing “groundwater recharge” to help with sustainable water management.

The Sacramento Valley is generally in balance with respect to its surface and groundwater resources. This is a result of a concerted, long-term effort by local agencies working with landowners and state and federal agencies to promote sustainable water management in the region. The active and conjunctive management of surface and groundwater has played an important role in this balance and will continue to play an increasingly important role as groundwater use expands and intensifies in certain parts of the Sacramento Valley. This dynamic is described in Fact Sheet: The State of Sacramento Valley Groundwater and a 2014 Sacramento Valley Groundwater Assessment.

Active groundwater and aquifer recharge utilizing the region’s natural infrastructure will be important in many parts of the Sacramento River Basin to maintain and help achieve sustainability, particularly around the small pockets where groundwater levels may be declining or not recovering during wet periods as quickly as they have in the past. While the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) is a high priority for California, we believe that the state can best add value, while plans are forthcoming over the next several years, to help local agencies advance groundwater recharge to help achieve balance under SGMA. An Executive Order would be helpful to advance this effort.

In the Sacramento River Basin, there are two good examples that highlight the opportunities for groundwater recharge in both urban and rural areas—the City of Roseville and Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District.

In the Sacramento Metropolitan area, the City of Roseville’s Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) captures surplus water from Folsom Reservoir for use at a later time. Check out this video that shows the benefits of this project. Roseville took delivery of 952-acre-feet of water (about 310 million gallons) from Folsom Reservoir to replenish the aquifer that lies beneath the city, which will help supply nearly 1,900 households in a future dry year. The Regional Water Authority’s proposed Sacramento Regional Water Bank provides additional opportunities for groundwater recharge in this area.

On the west side of the Sacramento River Basin, the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District (YCFCWCD) has captured high flows and recharged water in in its canal system in 3 of the last 4 years for the benefit of the landowners in Yolo County. In 2016 it diverted 11,128 acre feet to the groundwater basin; in 2017 6,210 acre feet; and in 2019 3,745 acre-feet of water.

As Department of Water Resources (DWR) Director Karla Nemeth has said, “the significant rainfall and snowpack made for a great water year in 2019, so we start the new year in a good place. However, we all know too well that California’s weather and precipitation are highly variable. What we have today could be gone tomorrow. Conserve, recycle, recharge– people and the environment depend on it.”

Our blog on natural infrastructure, such as recharging groundwater, is part of a series that presents our ideas on the critical elements for a water resilience portfolio from a Sacramento River Basin perspective. Through this series, we are seeking your thoughts and ideas (see below) that will help the Sacramento River Basin provide meaningful contributions to the water resilience portfolio and the actions that will help advance a 21st Century water management system for California. We use the principles in the Governor’s Executive Order as the starting point for our discussions and offer these ideas as a roadmap for resilience we believe will add value to California’s water management system. We welcome additional ideas and thoughts to make these contributions more effective. Please provide any thoughts or ideas to

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