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 the face of deepening drought in October, the East Kaweah
Groundwater Sustainability Agency (EKGSA) passed an emergency
groundwater allocation policy, and for the first time ever, the
Tulare County area’s farmers were given limits and fines for
how much water they can pump out of the increasingly parched
ground. EKGSA governs water for much of the eastern portion of
the Kaweah Sub Basin, which includes the towns of Lindsay and
Strathmore, and the Exeter and Ivanhoe irrigation districts and
the farmland that surrounds them.
As part of a regional effort, the Placer County Board of
Supervisors approved a groundwater sustainability plan for the
North American Subbasin on Jan. 11. The action is in accordance
with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, passed in
2014, which requires the formation of a Groundwater
Sustainability Agency and a Groundwater Sustainability Plan for
high- and medium-priority basins to be submitted by Jan. 31,
The Indian Wells Valley groundwater plan got a thumbs up from
the state on Thursday but with a swarm of lawsuits surrounding
the plan, it’s unclear what that approval will mean going
forward. One of those lawsuits seeks a “comprehensive
adjudication” of water rights of the Indian Wells Valley basin,
which could reconfigure who has rights to how much groundwater,
a fundamental underpinning of the groundwater sustainability
plan that was just approved.
In much of the West and Southwest, the climate crisis is
projected to raise average temperatures while reducing snowpack
for much of the foreseeable future. These trends will
significantly increase the risk of drought in an area heavily
dependent on irrigation for food production. So what’s the
plan? For many farming communities, there is none. That’s
according to a new report on drought preparedness
… Patterson Irrigation District, a public utility that
delivers water from the San Joaquin River to more than 12,000
acres of farmland in California’s Central Valley, is one
irrigation organization with a formal plan.
If it looks like something that could transport you into the
future, in a sense it is. A spaceship-sized hoop suspended from
a helicopter is actually part of an advanced water detection
system. The information it’s gathering, could help determine
the future of California’s water supply – and where we store
it. … For several years, [Stanford professor Rosemary]
Knight has been conducting aerial surveys using an
electromagnetic sensing system. She says the technology is able
to penetrate the ground, yielding vital data on the geology of
natural groundwater basins. 3D maps pinpoint attractive sites,
made up of materials marked in red, like sand and gravel, that
allow water to sink in.
There’s the definite possibility the Sustainable Groundwater
Management Act could have a negative impact on farmers’
property values. So the question is can farmers affected by the
SGMA receive relief when it comes to the amount of property
taxes they pay. The answer is maybe. The Tulare County
Assessor/Clerk-Recorder’s Office has addressed this issue,
stating farmers affected by the SGMA could possibly receive
relief when it comes to the property taxes they pay.
[The Water Replenishment District] serves water to 4 million
residents in southern LA County, with groundwater accounting
for half of its supply while the other half is imported.
… And WRD has struck gold in the form of local storage
right under its service area’s feet in the South Bay. There’s
brackish water there that’s been trapped for decades from
groundwater overpumping that led to seawater intrusion. They
just have to clean it.
Called paleo valleys, these buried historic riverbeds are still
the paths water wants to travel underground, like slow-motion
rivers. Their extreme permeability means they can absorb about
60 times more water than the surrounding clay. Aquifers, which
are better known, also hold water in coarse soils. But the
paleo valleys born of the most recent glaciations are truly
special, … They have super powers for moving water
underground because they are exceptionally large, have
unusually coarse gravel, and are relatively shallow—perhaps
just a meter or two below the surface.
California is facing an indisputable fact: We need, in a big
way, to get busy finding water alternatives to the
long-indispensable Sierra Nevada snowpack. Yes, we’ve been
blessed by recent exceptional snowfall, perhaps a snowy feast
after an extended water famine. But year to year, California’s
frozen reservoir—the mountain snow whose melt feeds farming and
quenches the thirst of Californians—is dwindling and
increasingly unreliable as the climate changes. As a result, we
now must move water— coming increasingly as rain or early
snowmelt—underground. -Written by Justin Fredrickson, the California
Farm Bureau’s water and environmental policy analyst.
The value of the secure water supply delivered to Solano County
from Lake Berryessa has long been lauded by county leaders.
Many consider the decision to build Monticello Dam and to
develop the Solano Water Project as the most important action
in the county’s history. That value continues to rise as
various agencies certify the Solano Subbasin Groundwater
Groundwater recharge seems to be priority No. 1 in the San
Joaquin Valley’s scramble toward sustainability. With water
restrictions on the horizon, groundwater managers can’t build
recharge sites fast enough. But will it be enough? … Farmers
have always relied on pumping groundwater in the valley for
their crops, especially in drought years when surface water is
in short supply. But overpumping is causing groundwater levels
to plummet, land subsidence and water quality problems.
The Department of Water Resources and the State Water Resources
Control Board issued final groundwater management principles
and strategies to help protect drinking water wells from the
impacts of drought. Developed in response to Governor
Gavin Newsom’s drought state of emergency proclamation in
April, the principles and strategies provide a framework for
state actions to proactively address impacts on
groundwater-dependent communities as droughts become more
frequent and intense as a result of climate change.
It emerged during one of the worst droughts in California
history, when rampant agricultural pumping was causing
groundwater levels to plummet and hundreds of Central Valley
wells were going dry. Signed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, the
Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was intended to address
overpumping, halt chronic water-level declines and bring
long-depleted aquifers into balance. More than seven years
later, however, those goals are still a long way off. …
[A] frenzy of well drilling has continued on large farms
across the San Joaquin Valley.
After decades of research and planning, a plan to reverse
Sonoma Valley’s continuing groundwater losses has been
unanimously approved by an independent agency formed for that
purpose. That plan will be submitted to the state water agency
for approval in January. The Sonoma Valley Groundwater
Sustainability Agency (SVGWA) unanimously adopted a
state-mandated Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GWP) for the
Sonoma Valley subbasin on Dec. 6. Similar plans are currently
being adopted for the Santa Rosa and Petaluma groundwater
basins using the same process.
California water officials have alerted local groundwater
agencies in farming areas across the San Joaquin Valley that
their plans for bringing aquifers into balance don’t adequately
address how continuing declines in water levels could cause
many more wells to run dry. The state Department of Water
Resources notified agencies in six areas of the San Joaquin
Valley that their groundwater sustainability plans are
incomplete and have deficiencies that need to be
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.