Groundwater Recharge Efforts Gain Momentum in San Joaquin Valley

Brian GermanAgri-Business, Water

Efforts to replenish groundwater in California’s San Joaquin Valley have surged under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Significant progress was reported in 2023, following a comprehensive survey of local water agencies. The survey was conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California. It highlighted a 17 percent increase in recharge volumes since 2017, totaling an estimated 7.6 million acre-feet valley-wide. This increase was fueled by expanded engagement from new Groundwater Sustainability Agencies, despite challenges like limited surface water access.

Groundwater Recharge

Key methods driving this surge include dedicated recharge basins, which accounted for more than half of all groundwater recharge activities, followed by in-lieu recharge of replacing groundwater with surface water. Notably, the practice of spreading water on farmland, while still constituting less than 10 percent of total recharge volumes, has shown promising growth due to its cost-effectiveness.

Local policies promoting better groundwater accounting and incentives for landowners have been instrumental in bolstering these efforts. State-level initiatives, including executive orders facilitating flood flow diversion and temporary floodwater diversion equipment, have also played a crucial role in supporting recharge projects.

Despite these advancements, challenges remain, particularly in clarifying water diversion rules, improving infrastructure, and securing adequate funding. The survey underscored missed opportunities totaling approximately 3.9 million acre-feet, emphasizing the need for continued strategic planning and collaboration between state and local agencies.

Looking ahead, stakeholders stress the importance of overcoming regulatory barriers, enhancing local infrastructure, and expanding recharge partnerships to ensure sustainable water management amidst evolving climate conditions.

Brian German
Ag News Director / AgNet West