Watching Groundwater Levels Recover in the Sacramento Valley

Wednesday, May 10th, 2023

By David Guy

With 2023 emerging as a wet year in the Sacramento Valley, water resources managers and Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) are watching groundwater levels and quality to see how the aquifer systems will recover on the heels of some very dry years where there has been little surface water available in certain parts of the Valley.

One indicator of trends in the aquifer systems is the spring groundwater levels that have been monitored and reported on the Department of Water Resources (DWR) California’s Groundwater Live. There is a lot to learn from the various trends seen on this website that will help inform local water and land use management. The encouraging signs are the immediate recovery of groundwater levels seen in many parts of the Valley with one wet spring. With full surface supplies available throughout the Valley in 2023 this trend should continue as the demands for groundwater pumping will be significantly less this year in areas where surface supplies are available.

Water resources managers and GSAs will continue to closely watch other areas in the Valley where groundwater pumping has been intense the past three years, notably on the west-side of the Valley, where surface supplies have been severely limited by regulations surrounding Lake Shasta operations. In certain pockets of the Valley, recovery seems to be slower and more aggressive actions will be necessary to recharge groundwater in more effective ways or to ultimately limit pumping.

The information on groundwater live, coupled with local information gathered by GSAs, reminds us about the importance of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) to support GSAs (counties, cities, water agencies and other special districts) and landowners throughout the region as they build stronger local institutional capacity for GSAs while implementing the foundational Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs) for the Sacramento Valley. Active management by GSAs through the GSPs across the entire Sacramento Valley floor will be essential for regional sustainability by 2042.

To help GSAs across the region, several priorities have emerged to support local agencies, which is described in A Pathway for the Future: Sustainable Groundwater Management in the Sacramento Valley. This includes:

  1. Ensure safe drinking water for communities
  2. Advance groundwater recharge opportunities
  3. Better understand and manage surface water and groundwater interaction.
  4. Help coordinate effective well permitting programs across the region; and
  5. Align state and federal priorities with local and regional needs.

                                          Click below for more details.


This document offers a path forward for groundwater sustainability in the Sacramento Valley and calls upon the leaders in the region to utilize our extensive and valuable natural infrastructure, including the groundwater aquifers and recharge areas, as part of a healthy landscape necessary for a functional Sacramento Valley and greater water supply resilience. The priorities renew our focus on conjunctively managing our resources and deploying nature-based solutions to achieve sustainability, which this groundwater level information will help support.

The Northern California Water Association is working to bring the region together to actively manage our water resources—both surface and groundwater—for multiple benefits that ensure sustainable water supplies for cities and rural communities, farms, fish, birds, recreation, and hydropower. In managing water from the ridgetop to the river mouth, we fully appreciate and embrace the Sacramento Valley’s groundwater aquifer systems and their importance to this region.
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