An aquifer is a geologic formation that stores, transmits, and
yields significant quantities of water to wells or springs.
Aquifers come in two types. Some are formed in the space between
porous materials such as sand, gravel, silt or clay and are known
as alluvial aquifers or unconfined aquifers. However, in many
places in California, there are aquifers beneath a rock layer
that does not allow water to permeate in measurable amounts.
These are known as confined aquifers.
Confined aquifers under pressure are known as artesian aquifers.
This pressure can push water to the surface, which when drilled
are called artesian wells.
On a small scale, aquifers — subsurface natural basins — have
been recharged with flood waters from extreme storms for
decades. Now, a new Department of Water Resources (DWR)
assessment shows how Flood Managed Aquifer Recharge, or
Flood-MAR, can help reduce flood risk and boost groundwater
supplies across large areas of land. … In partnership
with the Merced Irrigation District, Sustainable Conservation,
and others, DWR experts analyzed how this would work in the
Merced River —a 145-mile-long tributary of the San Joaquin
River. The Merced River, which flows from the Sierra
Nevada to the San Joaquin Valley, could be much more vulnerable
to heavy flooding as storms intensify.
A proposed fee system to manage irrigated land in Madera County
has sparked a successful protest, leaving one groundwater
agency unfunded and at least one farmer claiming the process
was done with minimal notice. … Three newly formed
groundwater sustainable agencies — Chowchilla Subbasin, the
Madera Subbasin and the Delta Mendota Subbasin — are left with
no funding for four ongoing groundwater projects required under
California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. It’s the
County of Madera that oversees the land, said Stephanie
Anagnason, director of water and natural resources for Madera
Drought cut short a pilot program to bring South Fork Kern
River water through Lake Isabella and down 60 miles to farmland
northwest of Bakersfield. Now, a raft of lawsuits could upend
the environmental impact report in support of the project,
which has been a goal of the Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage
District since it bought the old Onyx Ranch in 2013. The
project was doomed from the start, said one board member of the
water district that led the lawsuit charge.
The Indian Wells Valley Groundwater Authority has signed an
agreement to spend $6,396,000 to buy the rights to 750
acre-feet of state water per year to import from southwestern
Kings County. A nonbinding letter of intent signed Tuesday and
obtained by the Daily Independent lays out the terms between
the IWVGA and an entity called Utica LJL, LLC to purchase water
assets. Utica LJL is in the early stages of developing a site
along Interstate 5 about four miles south of Kettleman City to
build gas stations, restaurants, motels, an industrial park,
The ink is barely dry on the Sustainable Groundwater Management
Act and here comes more legislation to redo what has been the
most significant change in California water law in over 100
years. The California Department of Water Resources has not
finished evaluating Groundwater Sustainability Plans submitted
by local agencies under SGMA, which established a cooperative
framework to protect California’s groundwater resources. But
already legislation—Assembly Bill 2201 by Steve Bennett,
D-Ventura—seeks to change SGMA in ways that would bring
unnecessary confusion and disruption into the
process. -Written by Danny Merkley, director of water
resources for the California Farm Bureau; and Jack
Gualco, president of The Gualco Group Inc.
[W]hen you’re driving down the highway in Southern Arizona,
sometimes you’ll drive right through a field so green, you’d
think you were in Coastal California. … [Anastasia
Rabin's] well hasn’t run dry yet, but several of her neighbors
and many people in the region where she lives have had to pay
tens of thousands of dollars to deepen their wells or dig new
ones altogether. … Many in the area put the blame
on a dairy and out-of-state pecan farmers moving in and using
the land in ways it wasn’t meant to be used. Mostly, they’re
using lots of water, digging deeper than the residents and
small farmers who were already here, and literally changing the
The town of Tooleville in Tulare County is once again without
water. The town, which has struggled for years with dropping
groundwater levels and contamination issues, saw its wells dry
up over the weekend. On July 15, residents called
nonprofit Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability
reporting very low water pressure and some with no water at
all, said Elvia Olea, policy advocate for Leadership
Counsel. This is the second town in Tulare County to lose
water this summer. East Orosi, about 30 miles north of
Tooleville, was without water for 24 hours when one of its two
wells went down July 12, according to news reports. A pump was
installed and restored water to East Orosi.
Picture the ocean shore, but underground, there’s a line where
the freshwater and the seawater meet, called the salt line.
This salt line moves with the tides. But rising sea levels and
an increase of people living by the shore tapping into
freshwater underground can also pull more saltwater from the
ocean toward the land. … [P]laces all around the U.S. and the
world are now starting to study this problem. … California is
going through drought conditions. Aridification refers to the
climate getting drier in the long term, not just in seasonal
To survive this climate-changed future, the state needs to
capture those torrents—and the tools to do so are right beneath
our feet. In California, hidden under the ground are aquifers
that have the capacity to store an estimated 1.3 billion
acre-feet of water—26 times all of the state’s reservoirs
combined. All California needs to do is guide the floods caused
by torrential rainfall into the ground, instead of out to sea.
… Here’s the problem: We don’t know where to build this
infrastructure. Because we can’t see groundwater, our
understanding of it—where it is, which direction it flows, and
how it connects to the surface—is limited.
Cities and agricultural operations across the West put intense
pressure on groundwater supplies. In some rural regions, few
rules govern how, when and how much water can be pumped. That’s
true in rural southern Arizona, where wells are drying up as
cities grow, large farms move in and the megadrought continues.
… [Tara] Morrow and her neighbors are seeing the water
wells they use for their basic needs – cooking, cleaning and
showering – dry up as large farming operations move in and have
to drill deeper for groundwater.
Farmers in southern Tulare County on June 30 soundly rejected a
proposed land fee that would have helped pay a lump sum
settlement of $125 million toward fixing the Friant-Kern
Canal, which has sunk because of excessive groundwater pumping.
The Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency agreed in
2020 to pay a portion of the cost to repair the canal to Friant
Water Authority. … The settlement agreement between
Eastern Tule and Friant laid out two payment options. The GSA
would either pay a lump sum of $125 million by the end of 2022,
or $200 million over the next decade through pumping fees
charged to its farmers.
On a sunny morning in southern Arizona this spring, members of
the Arizona Water Defenders gathered at a park in the small
town of Douglas to answer residents’ questions about water —
and to collect signatures for a citizen-led ballot initiative
that would, for the first time, regulate the region’s aquifer.
…The Arizona Water Defenders, a grassroots group, was formed
in March 2021 by southeastern Arizona residents who were
concerned about local wells going dry and increasingly visible
ground fissures and land subsidence. … [I]n recent years, as
large-scale dairy and nut producers have bought land in the
area and drilled deep new wells, water table drawdown has
become more noticeable and worrisome.
Due to the lack of surface water available in the region this
year, the Yolo Subbasin Groundwater Agency is currently
forecasting that fall groundwater elevations in Yolo County
will be close to the 1976-77 drought. The 1976-77 drought is
the most significant drought on record for groundwater levels
and is used by the Yolo Subbasin Groundwater Agency (YGSA) as a
minimum threshold for the groundwater sustainability plan.
Groundwater in the Sonoma Valley basin has declined
approximately 900 acres of water per year from 2012 to 2018,
fueled in part by the drought and a “general upward trend in
groundwater use” … Streams and small ponds have dried up
during stretches of drought in recent years. The largest
declines in groundwater can be seen in the areas of the El
Verano and Eighth Street East … where a deep aquifer is
losing water quicker than other parts of the region. The
deep aquifer is of concern because it takes longer to recharge
than shallow ones.
To survive the next drought and meet
the looming demands of the state’s groundwater sustainability
law, California is going to have to put more water back in the
ground. But as other Western states have found, recharging
overpumped aquifers is no easy task.
Successfully recharging aquifers could bring multiple benefits
for farms and wildlife and help restore the vital interconnection
between groundwater and rivers or streams. As local areas around
California draft their groundwater sustainability plans, though,
landowners in the hardest hit regions of the state know they will
have to reduce pumping to address the chronic overdraft in which
millions of acre-feet more are withdrawn than are naturally
The southern part of California’s Central Coast from San Luis Obispo County to Ventura County, home to about 1.5 million people, is blessed with a pleasing Mediterranean climate and a picturesque terrain. Yet while its unique geography abounds in beauty, the area perpetually struggles with drought.
Indeed, while the rest of California breathed a sigh of relief with the return of wet weather after the severe drought of 2012–2016, places such as Santa Barbara still grappled with dry conditions.
Our event calendar is an excellent
resource for keeping up with water events in California and the
Groundwater is top of mind for many water managers as they
prepare to meet next January’s deadline for submitting
sustainability plans required under California’s Sustainable
Groundwater Management Act. We have several upcoming featured
events listed on our calendar that focus on a variety of relevant
Groundwater helped make Kern County
the king of California agricultural production, with a $7 billion
annual array of crops that help feed the nation. That success has
come at a price, however. Decades of unchecked groundwater
pumping in the county and elsewhere across the state have left
some aquifers severely depleted. Now, the county’s water managers
have less than a year left to devise a plan that manages and
protects groundwater for the long term, yet ensures that Kern
County’s economy can continue to thrive, even with less water.
Although Santa Monica may be the most aggressive Southern California water provider to wean itself from imported supplies, it is hardly the only one looking to remake its water portfolio.
In Los Angeles, a city of about 4 million people, efforts are underway to dramatically slash purchases of imported water while boosting the amount from recycling, stormwater capture, groundwater cleanup and conservation. Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2014 announced a plan to reduce the city’s purchase of imported water from Metropolitan Water District by one-half by 2025 and to provide one-half of the city’s supply from local sources by 2035. (The city considers its Eastern Sierra supplies as imported water.)
Imported water from the Sierra
Nevada and the Colorado River built Southern California. Yet as
drought, climate change and environmental concerns render those
supplies increasingly at risk, the Southland’s cities have ramped
up their efforts to rely more on local sources and less on
Far and away the most ambitious goal has been set by the city of
Santa Monica, which in 2014 embarked on a course to be virtually
water independent through local sources by 2023. In the 1990s,
Santa Monica was completely dependent on imported water. Now, it
derives more than 70 percent of its water locally.
The whims of political fate decided
in 2018 that state bond money would not be forthcoming to help
repair the subsidence-damaged parts of Friant-Kern Canal, the
152-mile conduit that conveys water from the San Joaquin River to
farms that fuel a multibillion-dollar agricultural economy along
the east side of the fertile San Joaquin Valley.
The growing leadership of women in water. The Colorado River’s persistent drought and efforts to sign off on a plan to avert worse shortfalls of water from the river. And in California’s Central Valley, promising solutions to vexing water resource challenges.
These were among the topics that Western Water news explored in 2018.
We’re already planning a full slate of stories for 2019. You can sign up here to be alerted when new stories are published. In the meantime, take a look at what we dove into in 2018:
In 1983, a landmark California Supreme Court ruling extended the public trust doctrine to tributary creeks that feed Mono Lake, which is a navigable water body even though the creeks themselves were not. The ruling marked a dramatic shift in water law and forced Los Angeles to cut back its take of water from those creeks in the Eastern Sierra to preserve the lake.
Now, a state appellate court has for the first time extended that same public trust doctrine to groundwater that feeds a navigable river, in this case the Scott River flowing through a picturesque valley of farms and alfalfa in Siskiyou County in the northern reaches of California.
As California embarks on its unprecedented mission to harness groundwater pumping, the Arizona desert may provide one guide that local managers can look to as they seek to arrest years of overdraft.
Groundwater is stressed by a demand that often outpaces natural and artificial recharge. In California, awareness of groundwater’s importance resulted in the landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014 that aims to have the most severely depleted basins in a state of balance in about 20 years.
Spurred by drought and a major
policy shift, groundwater management has assumed an unprecedented
mantle of importance in California. Local agencies in the
hardest-hit areas of groundwater depletion are drawing plans to
halt overdraft and bring stressed aquifers to the road of
Springs are where groundwater becomes surface water, acting as openings
where subsurface water can discharge onto the ground or directly
into other water bodies. They can also be considered the
consequence of an overflowing
aquifer. As a result, springs often serve as headwaters to streams.
This printed issue of Western Water looks at California
groundwater and whether its sustainability can be assured by
local, regional and state management. For more background
information on groundwater please refer to the Foundation’s
Layperson’s Guide to Groundwater.
This printed issue of Western Water looks at hydraulic
fracturing, or “fracking,” in California. Much of the information
in the article was presented at a conference hosted by the
Groundwater Resources Association of California.
This 25-minute documentary-style DVD, developed in partnership
with the California Department of Water Resources, provides an
excellent overview of climate change and how it is already
affecting California. The DVD also explains what scientists
anticipate in the future related to sea level rise and
precipitation/runoff changes and explores the efforts that are
underway to plan and adapt to climate.
Water as a renewable resource is depicted in this 18×24 inch
poster. Water is renewed again and again by the natural
hydrologic cycle where water evaporates, transpires from plants,
rises to form clouds, and returns to the earth as precipitation.
Excellent for elementary school classroom use.
Fashioned after the popular California Water Map, this 24×36 inch
poster was extensively re-designed in 2017 to better illustrate
the value and use of groundwater in California, the main types of
aquifers, and the connection between groundwater and surface
The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Groundwater is an in-depth,
easy-to-understand publication that provides background and
perspective on groundwater. The guide explains what groundwater
is – not an underground network of rivers and lakes! – and the
history of its use in California.
The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to
Water Rights Law, recognized as the most thorough explanation of
California water rights law available to non-lawyers, traces the
authority for water flowing in a stream or reservoir, from a
faucet or into an irrigation ditch through the complex web of
California water rights.