Preparing for a Dry Summer: Ensuring Safe Drinking Water in the Sacramento Valley

Thursday, May 12th, 2022

By Bruce Houdesheldt

As we prepare for the summer in the Sacramento Valley, the North State Drinking Water Solutions Network (Network) convened this week as part of the ongoing effort to ensure access to safe drinking water for all communities. The Network is designed to help connect communities in Northern California with the resources and support available, with a focus on identifying actions, technical services and funding needed this summer, including areas with dry wells and water quality issues. See Ensuring Access to Safe Drinking Water for All Communities. The discussion this week helped with coordination and revealed the challenges we will face this summer. It also provided key information on financial resources that the State will provide for counties, small communities and domestic well owners who need to address dry well conditions.

This year is truly an unprecedented year in the Sacramento River watershed, with little or no surface water available on the west-side of the Sacramento Valley. As a result, many cities and rural communities in the Sacramento Valley are limited to public health and safety water this year, where they will stretch available supplies throughout the year. In several areas, such as Woodland-Davis and the Redding area, there are water transfer arrangements with neighboring water suppliers to provide surface water for these communities that need water this year.

There will also be additional groundwater pumping, which will place additional pressure on groundwater resources in certain parts of the Valley. As part of the scenario planning for 2022, the leaders in the region, working with state and federal agencies and conservation and environmental justice organizations, discussed and recognized our highest priority for 2022 is “ensuring safe drinking water for our communities,” as described in A Pathway for the Future: Sustainable Groundwater Management in the Sacramento Valley.

As a result, there is a concerted effort throughout the Sacramento Valley to ensure safe drinking water by counties, cities and Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) working closely together to address their local issues and make sure communities and people have water this year. Additionally, we are also coordinating efforts by counties and (GSAs) to coordinate well permitting consistent with the provisions in the Governor’s recent Executive Order, which is intended to protect domestic groundwater wells. See Drought Well Permitting RequirementsDrought Executive Order N-7-22.

We are encouraged that for all the communities listed on the State Water Board’s HR2W page for the Sacramento Valley, there is a lead entity and funding to assist each of these projects in the Sacramento Valley, with the goal to address the drinking water issues and remove them from this list as soon as possible. See SWRCB map. The State Water Board has updated its 2022 Drinking Water Needs Assessment under the SAFER program as foundational information and recommendations to guide needs with support and funding for the next tier of projects. The Rural Community Assistance Program (RCAC) also highlights the work underway with support from a non-profit technical assistance and training program that is available to small water systems and schools.

We are also encouraged there are various places in the Sacramento River Basin where entities are working to consolidate their functions in different ways. This includes Placer County Water Agency, the Orland area, Palermo, and other places in the foothills.

The NCWA Board of Directors and staff continue to advance comprehensive solutions to address drinking water problems in our local communities and continuing to implement the water quality protection programs underway to Ensure High Quality Water in the Sacramento River Basin for Communities, Ecosystems, and Farms.

In summary, all Californians have a right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water under the “human right to water” established in state law in 2012. Significant progress has been made over the past decade to provide safe drinking water to communities in the Sacramento Valley, thus removing them from the State Water Board’s list of at-risk communities. This progress has been impressive; yet, there is still work ahead as successful implementation of sustainable drinking water solutions for certain communities will require utilization of both the policy tools and financial resources available to state agencies as well as the knowledge and expertise of local communities and water managers.

Moving forward, NCWA will continue to regularly convene the Network to enable interested parties to further coordinate their efforts and advance safe drinking water solutions in Northern California. 

We welcome your ideas and help in advancing these solutions at info@norcalwater.org.

For more information, see Groundwater Live and DWR’s Dry Well Program.

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