A long stretch of highway running between Los Angeles and San Francisco separates the dry hills to the west from the green plains of the San Joaquin Valley to the east, where much of America’s fruit, nuts and vegetables are grown. Every couple of miles billboards hint at the looming threat to the valley. “Is growing food a waste of water?” one billboard asks. Another simply says, “No Water, no Jobs”. In the San Joaquin Valley agriculture accounts for 18% of jobs and agriculture runs on water. Most of it comes from local rivers and rainfall, some is imported from the river deltas upstate, and the rest is pumped out of groundwater basins.
The water beneath a large swath of Phoenix isn’t fit to drink. A plume of toxic chemicals has tainted the groundwater for decades, and it’s now at the center of a bitter fight over how the aquifer should be cleaned up and what should happen to the water in the future. At issue are questions about why the cleanup has proceeded slowly, which government agency should lead the effort, and whether the polluted water, which isn’t flowing to household faucets, is releasing chemicals into the air at levels that may pose health risks for people in the area.
The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors voted in July to authorize a Local Resources Program Agreement with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Fallbrook Public Utility District for the Santa Margarita River Conjunctive Use Project.
The Local Resources Program, managed by MWD, provides funding for local water supply projects. MWD is expected to provide final approval of the project in coming months.
Earlier this year, an agreement between FPUD and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton settled a lawsuit that was filed in 1951 over the right to use water from the Santa Margarita River.
Water from Santa Margarita River would reduce imported water demand
The upcoming groundwater recharge project will improve existing facilities and build new facilities to capture surface runoff from the Santa Margarita River. When water flows are high, the runoff would recharge groundwater basins on Camp Pendleton. New and existing wells and pumps will transfer the groundwater to FPUD, which will treat and deliver it to customers.
Water from the river would reduce FPUD’s demand on imported water and minimize Camp Pendleton’s reliance on imported water.
Project would provide 30% of Fallbrook’s total water supply
Facilities will be constructed by Camp Pendleton and FPUD. Camp Pendleton has already constructed its own bi-directional pipeline and related infrastructure, as part of the project, which received congressional funding.
FPUD will construct groundwater extraction wells, a groundwater treatment plant, pump station, storage tank and conveyance and distribution pipelines among other things. The cost of the project is $54.4 million.
FPUD expects construction of the pipeline and treatment plant will begin this fall and take about two years. When completed, the project is expected to produce an estimated 3,100 acre-feet a year. One-acre foot, the equivalent of 326,000 gallons, can supply the average household needs of 2.5 four-person families for one year.
The project would provide about 30 percent of FPUD’s total water supply and nearly all of Camp Pendleton’s water needs.
Six regions of California that considered themselves to be managing groundwater sustainably have been informed otherwise by state officials, who rejected alternatives to preparation of groundwater sustainability plans for the regions. Three of the applicants have agreed to form groundwater sustainability agencies as required under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The remaining three—in Humboldt, Lake and Napa counties—face decisions on how to proceed. In all, the California Department of Water Resources reviewed alternative proposals for 15 groundwater basins or subbasins, and approved nine of the proposals. The agencies that submitted alternatives must satisfy the objectives of SGMA, and demonstrate the basin has been operating sustainably for at least 10 years or has a well-defined plan to achieve sustainability within 20 years.
This week’s short post is on groundwater law – from the viewpoint of physics. Water policy, management, and human law often misunderstand how groundwater and surface water work physically. Bredehoeft, et al. (1982) distill a longstanding lament of many groundwater experts, “Perhaps the most common misconception in groundwater hydrology is that a water budget of an area determines the magnitude of possible groundwater development. Several well-known hydrologists have addressed this misconception and attempted to dispel it. Somehow, though, it persists and continues to color decisions by the water-management community.”
Western Municipal Water District (WMWD) announced earlier this week that it has acquired nearly 23,000 shares of common stock in the Meeks and Daley Water Company (M&D), a private individual shareholder. This purchase will further ensure WMWD’s long-term water reliability and is the water district’s first-ever groundwater right in the San Bernardino Basin.
“The acquisition of M&D water is part of Western’s ongoing plan to decrease dependence on imported water, expand affordable local water supplies, and ensure long-term water reliability for our 25,000 residential and business customers,” said General Manager Craig Miller.
Like money in the bank, local groundwater aquifers have seen record-breaking deposits this year with a staggering 20 billion gallons saved so far and another two months still left in the water year, the San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation District announced today. More than 61,000 acre-feet of snowmelt and rainfall has been diverted from Mill Creek and the Santa Ana River by the District and recharged into the groundwater basin for future use by those who pump water from the basin. Imported water was also used to help supplement the amount of water stored.
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) today announced approval of nine alternatives to groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) submitted by water agencies to meet requirements of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
SGMA requires local agencies throughout the state to sustainably manage groundwater basins. Basins ranked as medium- or high-priority are required to develop GSPs or submit an alternative.
An alternative may be an existing groundwater management plan that demonstrates a reasonable expectation of achieving sustainability within 20 years. It may also be a basin adjudication with existing governance and oversight, or a 10-year analysis of basin conditions showing sustainable operations with no undesirable results such as subsidence, saltwater intrusion, or degraded water quality.
Cuyama landowners will soon have to pay to pump groundwater, a decision that some say will place the burden of Cuyama’s dwindling water supply largely on farmers’ shoulders.
At a board of directors meeting on July 10, the Cuyama Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency voted to approve a pay-to-pump funding structure, in which landowners are charged extraction fees each time they pump water from Cuyama’s groundwater basin. The pumping fees will fund the sustainability agency’s continued efforts to implement a groundwater sustainability plan as ordered by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, a state law that requires critically overdrafted basins to submit plans for groundwater sustainability by Jan. 31, 2020.
It may be out of sight, but it should not be out of mind. Water hidden beneath the earth’s surface comprises 98% of the planet’s fresh water. On average, this groundwater provides a third of all total water consumed, and its preciousness is ever more palpable since Cape Town’s water crisis sent shock waves rippling around the world.
Despite this, its regulation is far from ideal – especially now that drought conditions are intensifying around the globe and people are increasingly drilling downwards.