It’s been an extremely wet winter in California. To make good use of all that extra water, Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a new executive order that encourages the flooding of agricultural lands to help increase the state’s groundwater supply.
Three years of unprecedented drought and heavy agricultural pumping have depleted California’s underground water storage, leaving many wells dry across the Central Valley. Now, as torrential rains flood the San Joaquin River, the Sacramento River, and other waterways, the state has begun diverting those floodwaters to areas where excess moisture can disperse, soak into the ground, and trickle down to the aquifers below. In towns like Dunnigan, California, this method of groundwater recharge has already contributed to a rising water table.
The plan takes advantage of California’s deep snowpack, which is nearly 200% above normal levels and can help refill the state’s reservoirs once that snow melts in the spring. It also decreases potential flood risks. Most importantly, it helps prevents an agricultural crisis by turning bad weather into a water-harvesting opportunity. As climate change continues to cause severe weather events — including the “atmospheric river” storms that dumped more than 30 trillion gallons of water onto California in recent months — the state has found itself bouncing between intensely wet storms and long periods of drought. California’s weather patterns will continue to swing between those extremes for years to come, but by harvesting excess stormwater right now, we can replenish our water storage for the bone-dry months ahead.
Groundwater recharge isn’t anything new, but Gov. Newsom’s executive order has eased the permitting process that’s typically required. During previous years, state law required those hoping to pull water from California’s network of rivers for groundwater recharge to obtain permits from the State Water Resources Control Board and Department of Fish and Wildlife. Now, if the land meets certain environmental conditions, those permits are no longer needed. Simply put, it’s easier than ever before to send water to the places that need it most.
Although the traditional permit requirements will be reinstated on June 1st, California’s aquifers are already benefitting from the expedited recharge process. The water that state officials plan on diverting from the San Joaquin River alone is more than the yearly supply for the entire city of Los Angeles. To learn more about how you can get involved with groundwater recharge efforts, contact your local irrigation district!