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.
In America’s rush to build the nuclear arsenal that won the
Cold War, safety was sacrificed for speed. Uranium mills that
helped fuel the weapons also dumped radioactive and toxic waste
into rivers like the Cheyenne in South Dakota and the Animas in
Colorado. … The U.S. government bankrolled the industry, and
mining companies rushed to profit, building more than 50 mills
and processing sites to refine uranium ore. But the
government didn’t have a plan for the toxic byproducts of this
nuclear assembly line. Some of the more than 250 million tons
of toxic and radioactive detritus, known as tailings, scattered
into nearby communities, some spilled into streams and some
leaked into aquifers. … But the government has fallen
down in addressing another lingering threat from the industry’s
byproducts: widespread water pollution.
When drought strikes, California farmers often pump water from
underground aquifers to water their crops. But increasingly dry
conditions are straining that resource. … [David
Freyberg of Stanford University] says many people are looking
at ways to replenish the state’s dwindling groundwater
supplies. In California, a lot of water typically comes
from winter snow that falls high in the mountains.
During warmer months, that snow melts and trickles down to
farmland. But as the climate warms, more precipitation is
falling as rain instead of snow. So it rushes into rivers and
runs past many areas where it’s needed.
It is imperative more now than ever for residents of Sonoma
County to be aware of exactly how our groundwater resources are
being used. Understanding how much water is being pumped will
enable actual protections for our residential users that are
increasingly experiencing dry wells. In addition, knowledge of
groundwater pumping from wells will also ensure that the
important public trust resources we all hold dear are not
adversely impacted. It is time for these harmful practices to
come to an end. By challenging the County to fulfill their
public trust obligations in a robust and transparent way, we
can begin to rectify some of these past and ongoing harms, and
bring our groundwater use in line with the increasing realities
of climate change.
Thomas Birmingham, general manager of the massive Westlands
Water District since 2000, Wednesday announced plans to step
down at the end of 2022. His announcement follows the election
of four new members to the Westlands Board of Directors on Nov.
8 who would give a so-called “change coalition” a solid
majority of six seats on the nine-member board. The top
priority for the coalition is “a change in leadership,”
according to Sarah Woolf, who along with Jon Reiter helped
coordinate a group of increasingly frustrated Westlands farmers
to run the slate of change candidates, SJV Water
Drought conditions and the implementation of the Sustainable
Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) are putting a squeeze on
California growers. Principal Analyst with the Almond Board of
California, Jesse Roseman said efforts to improve statewide
water storage and conveyance are underway. However, those are
more long-term solutions to current water constraints.
Implementing groundwater recharge projects in almond orchards
presents a more immediate option for helping to address water
issues in California. … Implementing groundwater
recharge projects in orchards can require frequent
communication with local irrigation districts and Groundwater
Sustainability Agencies. Roseman explained that projects can
often require new water rights, permits, and new conveyance.
However, the efforts can prove exceptionally beneficial when
surplus water is available.
Recently, researchers from Stanford flew California skies on a
kind of airborne treasure hunt. Probing hundreds of feet into
the ground with electromagnetic signals, they were in search of
liquid gold – water, or more precisely a place to capture and
store it. … [Rosemary Knight, Ph.D., a researcher with
the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability] just released
a new study, confirming the airborne technology’s ability to
locate what is now popularly called “paleo valleys.” They’re
long, buried riverbed pathways created thousands of years ago
by the movement of glaciers that once covered the Sierra.
Filled with porous material, experts believe they could act
like a high-speed express lane to carry diverted flood water
deep into the aquifer.
A lawsuit over groundwater plans in the northern end of the San
Joaquin Valley is being closely watched as it could have
implications for how the state’s groundwater mandate moves
forward, according to a recent briefing on the issue at the
Kern Groundwater Authority. At the Nov. 16 meeting, authority
attorney Valerie Kincaid explained that the lawsuit, filed in
2020, seeks to have a court invalidate six groundwater plans in
the Delta-Mendota Subbasin, which runs along the western edge
of the valley from west of Fresno north to west of Modesto. The
Department of Water Resources filed an amicus brief in the
suit, which was bought by the California Sportfishing
Protection Alliance, Kincaid explained. An amicus, or friend of
the court brief, can be filed by a group that has a strong
interest in a case.
There’s no healthcare screener for water insecurity. The issue
is not even on most public health professionals’ radar… Most
estimates put U.S. water insecurity at 2.2 million
residents….Accurate data are essential to closing the water
gap because food insecurity increases the probability of water
insecurity…. You might think access to ample potable water is
a basic human right. Legally, in the U.S., it isn’t (although
California has taken a stab at making it so). Still, many
Americans spend more than 12 percent of their income for water
and sewer service.
According to the National Center for Environmental Information,
about 51 percent of the continental United States has been
experiencing drought conditions in the summer of 2022. More
than 70 percent of the western U.S. faces severe drought. The
Colorado River basin supply is rapidly declining, and Lake Mead
and Lake Powell are at critically low levels. Because of this,
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has declared a Tier 2 water
shortage on the Colorado River impacting seven western states
that depend on water from the river. … In the U.S., more
than 40 percent of the population relies on groundwater for its
drinking water. Groundwater is also used for irrigation,
domestic use, public use, and industrial and mining activities.
Thousands of years ago during the last Ice Age, rivers flowed
from giant glaciers in the Sierra Nevada down to the Central
Valley, carving into rock and gouging channels at a time when
the sea level was about 400 feet lower. When the glaciers
retreated, meltwater coursed down and buried the river channels
in sediment. These channels left by ancient rivers lie hidden
beneath California’s Central Valley. Scientists call them
paleovalleys, or incised valley fill deposits. As much as 100
feet deep and more than a mile wide in places, they are filled
with coarse-grained sand, gravel and cobbles. Because these
paleovalleys are highly permeable, scientists have pointed to
them as ideal pathways for water to quickly percolate down and
Starting around November 17, 2022 and lasting up to a month, a
helicopter towing a large hoop from a cable will make low-level
flights over areas of the western San Joaquin Valley in Fresno,
Kings, and Kern Counties near Coalinga and the Pyramid Hills,
with limited surveying near Lost Hills. Residents of these
areas may see a low-flying helicopter towing a large hoop
hanging from a cable. USGS scientists will use the data to
improve understanding of groundwater salinity and below-ground
geology to better understand groundwater conditions near
California’s oil fields. The helicopter will tow a sensor
that resembles a large hula-hoop about 100-200 feet above the
ground to measure small electromagnetic signals.
Already grappling with drought, lower commodity prices and
higher production costs, more farmers are feeling the added
pinch of groundwater regulations as local agencies implement
plans that include pumping limits and new fees to balance
long-term groundwater resources as required by the
state. … Regulations and fees by local agencies as
part of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA,
affect farmers more directly this year, including farmers in
Madera County. Madera County farmer Jay Mahil said
groundwater sustainability agency fees that are part of his
county property tax bill are “coming at a time when growers are
receiving all-time low returns on commodity prices, and farm
input costs have doubled.”
The land along the Arroyo Pasajero Creek, halfway between
Sacramento and Los Angeles, is too dry to farm some years and
dangerously flooded in others. Amid the cycles of wet and dry —
both phenomena exacerbated by climate change — a coalition of
local farmers and the nearby city of Huron are trying to turn
former hemp and tomato fields into massive receptacles that can
hold water as it percolates into the ground during wet
years. This project and others like it across California’s
Central Valley breadbasket aim to capture floodwaters that
would otherwise rush out to the sea, or damage towns, cities
and crops. … The project near Huron is one of about 340
recharge systems that have been proposed by water agencies in
California – enough to store 2.2 million acre-feet by 2030 if
they all are built …
Hundreds of thousands of acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland
may come out of irrigated production in the coming decades to
help balance overdrafted groundwater basins under the
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. At the same time,
California needs to ramp up clean energy development to meet
the goals of SB 100—and the valley has high solar potential. At
a virtual event last week, PPIC Water Policy Center research
fellow Andrew Ayres moderated a panel of experts and local
stakeholders; they explored how solar development could help
California meet multiple objectives while overcoming some
challenges and delivering lasting benefits to the region.
Balancing the state’s groundwater supplies for a sustainable
future may not be easy due to severe drought and ongoing
economic challenges facing farmers. “We’ve got the lowest
prices and highest production costs and the least-reliable
water supply that we’ve had since I’ve been farming,” said Bill
Diedrich of Firebaugh, who farms row crops and permanent crops
on the west side in Madera and Fresno counties…. Diedrich,
who relies on groundwater for irrigating farmland in Madera
County and surface water for ground in Fresno County, said
farming at this time “is very difficult.” He said the 2014
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which tasks local
agencies to balance groundwater supplies in affected basins by
2040 and 2042, means farmland must come out of production.
Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Water and
Science Tanya Trujillo today wrapped a visit to California
where she highlighted historic investments being made through
President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to boost water
infrastructure and tackle western drought. On Thursday,
Assistant Secretary Trujillo joined state and local partners to
commemorate the Water Replenishment District (WRD)’s 60 years
of using recycled water for groundwater replenishment and to
celebrate a $15.4 million investment from the Bipartisan
Infrastructure Law for WRD’s Groundwater Reliability
Improvement Program to help protect groundwater resources for 4
million people in the region.
For the past 20 years, two small satellites orbiting 250 miles
above Earth have tracked a stark reality about the nation’s
groundwater supplies, including across the parched Colorado
River Basin: The water underground is vanishing. The NASA
satellites began gathering data in 2002. Since then, Colorado
River Basin groundwater has depleted much faster than water
storage in the nation’s two largest reservoirs, according to
research that underscores concerns about the increasingly tight
water supply in the drought-stricken West. … [H]ydrologist
Jay Famiglietti … highlighted data that showed groundwater
depleting at six and a half times the rate of water storage in
Lake Powell and Lake Mead between 2002 and
2014…. Famiglietti urged more consideration of
groundwater depletion in discussions over the future of the
Climate change is contributing to severe droughts in the
southwest United States and elsewhere, increasing the afflicted
areas’ dependence on groundwater. In California, for instance,
groundwater contributes up to 60% of the state’s total water
supply in dry years. Monitoring subterranean aquifers is
crucial to using their water efficiently—and ensuring the
supply doesn’t run dry. But monitoring groundwater isn’t easy.
Traditionally, an aquifer’s water levels are measured using
wells: Hydrologists drill into the ground and measure the pore
pressure at depth, a measurement from which they infer the
amount of water trapped in sediments.
You may see low-flying helicopters over the Central Coast. Do
not be alarmed, the California Department of Water Resources
will be using helicopters to do a survey of groundwater
basins. They will be doing electromagnetic surveys to
support drought response. During the surveys, a low-flying
helicopter tows a large hoop with scientific equipment
approximately 100 feet above the ground. The schedule and
map of where the surveys can be found here. … Survey
data creates an image of the subsurface down to a depth of
about 1,000 feet below the ground surface and provides
information about large-scale aquifer structures and geology.
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.