State Encourages Early Planning to Capture Winter Storm Runoff for Groundwater Recharge


A drone view of the James Irrigation District utilizing pumps from DWR’s Emergency Pump Program to divert water and fill a basin for groundwater recharge in Fresno County

A drone view of the James Irrigation District utilizing pumps from DWR’s Emergency Pump Program to divert water and fill a basin for groundwater recharge in Fresno County,

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is encouraging local agencies to prepare groundwater recharge projects early to maximize the capture and storage of any upcoming storm runoff to recharge groundwater basins. Groundwater provides water for millions of Californians and recharging groundwater basins not only supports overall ecosystem health, but it can also help ensure long-term sustainable groundwater supplies for communities that use groundwater for drinking water, agriculture, and business.

Last year, federal, state, and local agencies had to pivot quickly from planning for a fourth consecutive dry year, to addressing what became a historic wet year. We witnessed unprecedented collaboration, coordination and actions to capture as much of the unexpected heavy rainfall and snow melt as possible to help reduce flood risk in vulnerable communities and recharge depleted groundwater basins. During the 2023 Water Year, more than 1.2 million acre-feet of groundwater recharge was permitted by state agencies, nearly 400,00 acre-feet of flood water was recharged using the Governor’s Executive Orders, and millions more acre-feet of managed and naturally occurring recharge was achieved.

“State actions to streamline permitting and provide funding and equipment to support local agencies in 2023 were impressive, as was the work done by local agencies to expedite their projects,” said Paul Gosselin, DWR Deputy Director of Sustainable Groundwater Management. “However, these efforts required a lot of quick action and put a strain on an already complicated emergency response. Going forward, DWR is working to encourage and support local agencies to proactively prepare recharge projects prior to California’s wet season, including securing any needed permits.”

California’s new water year began October 1. Conditions so far have been mostly dry, but the strong El Niño in the Pacific could bring heavy precipitation to the state in the coming months. While forecasting technology has improved immensely, the weather extremes associated with climate change are making it difficult to know when the next deluge or next drought will occur, but we do know that both of those extremes will occur. By having groundwater recharge projects ready to go, local agencies can be prepared to capture excess water when it comes and store it in groundwater basins for use during future dry years when it is needed most.

Groundwater recharge has always been a key strategy to help improve groundwater conditions, but it wasn’t until the historic passage of California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) that the practice gained more statewide attention. Expediting groundwater recharge is a key water resilience strategy of the Newsom Administration’s Water Supply Strategy: Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future and is helping local agencies bring historically depleted aquifers into balance. Investing in groundwater recharge now can help enhance water security; reduce vulnerability to floods, drought, and dry wells; and promote long-term sustainability.

December through February are typically the wettest months in California, and March and April can also be wet months. There is still time to prepare projects to take advantage of upcoming storms this year and DWR is providing technical assistance and other resources to help local agencies proactively plan and expedite groundwater recharge projects.

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