At the March 19th meeting of the California Water Commission, Dan McManus, Senior Engineering Geologist for the Department of Water Resources discussed the Department’s groundwater efforts in response to the drought and how their efforts align the Governor’s Water Action Plan, and Mary Scruggs, Supervising Engineering Geologist, gave an update on the CASGEM (California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring) Program.
Dan McManus began by presenting a slide showing DWR’s program functions and organizational structure. He noted that the slide includes DWR’s vision for groundwater sustainability, which is to provide local and regional support through technical guidance, financial assistance, interagency coordination, groundwater monitoring, and advancement of Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM).
The Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) is a core program for DWR, he said. “We feel like a lot of the management activities at the local level, if they are incorporated into the IRWM program, could provide a means for more sustainable management,” he said.
The chart also notes the main programs the collect and utilize groundwater data: the California Water Plan, a strategic plan for the state of California on water resource management; the CASGEM program, a groundwater elevation monitoring program that is beginning to expand more to look at technical assistance and guidance through basin assessments; financial assistance and facilitation services that we provide to help with groundwater management activities; and then the Future Water Supply Program which is focused on conjunctive management of the Sacramento Valley’s resources, he said.
At the bottom of the chart is the long-term baseline data program. “It sometimes gets neglected, but it really feeds into all of those programs – without accurate data and long term data, the proper management of groundwater resources is pretty difficult,” he said.
Mr. McManus said that DWR’s groundwater related activities are focused in two areas: the Governor’s drought proclamation and the California Water Action Plan. He noted that the drought proclamation actions are more near-term actions and the water action plan actions are a little bit longer-term.
The Governor’s drought proclamation contains two items that specifically relate to groundwater: Action Item 11, which asks DWR to evaluate changing groundwater levels, land subsidence, agricultural land fallowing as well as look at the data gaps for groundwater monitoring; and Action Item 12 which asks DWR to work with the counties and drillers to make sure that the required groundwater well logs for newly constructed and deepened wells are received in a timely manner.
The California Water Action Plan has three major goals: to improve reliability, restore species habitat, and to sustainably manage groundwater resources. “With respect to groundwater, quite a few of the actions fall under action item #6, which is expand groundwater storage capacity, improve groundwater management, and there are a number of items there that we’re also working on to address and respond to in a coordinated fashion,” he said.
DWR is utilizing the Incident Command System for the drought response, said Mr. McManus, noting that it is a similar approach that they use for responding to flood emergencies. “One thing nice about the Incident Command System, it does provide a standardized roles and responsibility and organization for the different ways you respond to emergencies, and although a drought emergency’s a little different than what you might expect in a fire or earthquake or flood as it has a little bit longer mobilization and demobilization time, but some of the same activities really apply,” he said. Bill Croyle is the ‘incident commander’ with staff underneath him to directly assist, and then there are the five main categories of operations, planning, intel, logistics, and finance administration.
“From a groundwater perspective, most of the work we are doing is related to these three groups on the left that come out of the operations section,” said Mr. McManus. “Most of those are coming out of the groundwater team which is led by Dane Mathes, co-lead is Mary Scruggs, and they are specifically responding to those items in the Governor’s proclamation.”
“That’s our approach and one thing about this structure is that even though we filled on these boxes with the names of the people, it expands and contracts as needed to respond to what’s happening out in the field,” he said. “We have people assigned to all these areas but they meet more or less frequently as needed to respond in a way that is necessary.”
For Action Item 11 of the Governor’s drought proclamation, DWR is developing the groundwater level data to create elevation maps, looking not only at changes from year to year but longer term changes as well, he said. DWR is also looking for gaps in groundwater monitoring and identifying water short basins by looking at basins with a high reliance on groundwater, or ones that have wells that have been deepened in those basins, as well as looking at updating groundwater use and also any known impacts, he said. He noted that the response for land subsidence and agricultural fallowing is being conducted by another team led by Jeanine Jones and not by the groundwater team specifically.
For Action Item 12, DWR has obtained an updated list from the contractor’s licensing board on all the C57 licensed drillers in California and sent letters to all those drillers reminding them that the regulations require that they submit their well logs within 60 days. “We’ve also sent letters to all the County permitting agencies to see if they can provide a list of permits that are being given out, and then we’re following up with those agencies as we go,” he said.
“We’re also taking areas where we have the data and compiling a number of maps looking at the min/max average groundwater well data and overlying depth to groundwater, which in some ways helps you look at areas that may have impending problems,” he said.
The drought-related activities are short-term, he said, noting that they have a report due to the Governor by April 30. He noted that there has been emergency funding provided to CASGEM program for some longer term things related to the California Water Action Plan, and there are other items within the CASGEM program that they are advanced more quickly, they can help respond to the drought.
He then presented a chart titled CWAP and Interagency Alignment, and noted that the chart still is a draft. He pointed out that the State Water Resources Control Board is on the left and they are developing a concept workplan for groundwater. On the right is DWR, and in the middle is the California Water Action Plan which both agencies are responding to. “DWR is putting together a 5-year implementation plan to respond to the California Water Action Plan, and really the take home here is that we’re developing a more structured and coordinated way to have our policy management get together from those two agencies and then also have our technical staff get together on a regular basis, so we can coordinate our response to the California water action plan in a way that reduces duplication, and really has more of a collaborative effort.”
“And with that … “
Mary Scruggs began by presenting a slide that notes that groundwater provides about 40% of the water supplies and is about 16.5 MAF per year.
Bulletin 118 is the statewide groundwater management plan which was last updated in 2003. The Governor’s Water Action Plan identifies updating Bulletin 118, but Ms. Scruggs pointed out that they have not been given funding doing the update. “There is emergency funding under the CASGEM well completion report which I’ll get to, and there’s also funding in the Governor’s budget for CASGEM, but nothing specifically for Bulletin 118, but some of those elements do match,” she said.
CASGEM (California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring) is a voluntary, long-term program to collect groundwater elevations statewide. It is a collaborative effort between DWR and local agencies, where local agencies collect groundwater elevation data to DWR and the data will be readily and widely available to the public. The water code also requires DWR to prioritize and assess groundwater basins, and provide status reports to Governor and Legislature. “The data that is collected under CASGEM is done collaboratively with local agencies but it’s also augments other programs that the DWR does,” said Ms. Scruggs. “CASGEM is a subset of our water data library total data.”
“As of mid February, we added over 4400 wells to the CASGEM to the water data library and we’ve added over 100,000 data records on groundwater elevations since the starting of the program that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” she said. She noted that a lot of that is new data, but a portion is also agencies that reported their historical data. “A record for a couple of years doesn’t do you a whole lot, but if you can go back and get prior years, you’ve got a much better trend.”
A Monitoring Entity is a local agency or group that voluntarily takes responsibility for coordinating groundwater level monitoring and data reporting for all or part of a groundwater basin, and reports the data to DWR. Ms. Scruggs said they are still working on designating monitoring entities, but currently there are 76 designated monitoring entities covering all or part of 167 basins or sub-basins out of 200 notifications received, and they are still working on over 200 other notifications.
For the basin prioritization process, a requirement of the water code, groundwater basins and sub-basins were evaluated using statewide data sets for population, population growth, the number of wells (public and private), irrigated acreage, reliance on groundwater and documented impacts such as subsidence, groundwater contamination, or saline intrusion, as well as other data such as surface water-groundwater interaction. Ms. Scruggs noted that they recently held workshops to explain the preliminary findings.
“We needed to figure out how to start prioritizing the basins,” said Ms. Scruggs. “There are 515 of them, so it’s a big task. The basin prioritization process is really based on groundwater reliance, and so in going with this, we plotted it all out, and 97% of the groundwater use is in 126 of the basins, so that was our first cutoff,” she said. “We also looked at basins that had over 200,000 AF of usage, and other parameters, too.” She noted that the data was normalized by basin area to groundwater use per acre-feet per acre, so that basins of different sizes could be matched and compared.
Ms. Scruggs briefly explained that they went through the different components, came up with distribution curves, ranked the components, did the cutoffs, and in the end, produced this state map.
She pointed out that the high priority basins are in orange, the medium priority basins are in yellow, low priority basins are in green, and the very low priority basins are light green. “It’s not really surprising to see the highs and medium basins are in the Central Valley, large basins in Southern California, and some of the coastal basins,” she said. “What we see here is not surprising, but now we have the data to support it.”
“There are 126 medium and high priority basins in our draft results,” she said, presenting a slide of breakdown by hydrologic region. “That covers 92% of the groundwater use over those basins and it also covers 89% of the population, so we figure we’re really focusing our efforts on the priorities of where groundwater is being used,” she said.
“The prioritization also reflects the criteria that we used, it doesn’t have any reflection is groundwater being managed well or not well,” said Ms. Scruggs. “It’s purely on the criteria that is identified in the water code.”
“Under CASGEM, we’re using this prioritization so that we can focus our resources on the highs and mediums,” she said. “We just don’t have the staffing and the time to cover all of them, so covering 92% of the groundwater use we figure is a good start.”
“It’s also taking it at the statewide scale,” she said. “This does not diminish the importance of groundwater basins on the local scale; there can be basins on here showing up as being low or very low or medium, so in a local context, groundwater is extremely important. This is doing it on a statewide scale. And by focusing on high and medium basins, we’re trying to get the best bang for our buck and also where the area will have to most benefit for the groundwater.”
The basin prioritization has uses for others as well, she noted. It is being used in the California Water Plan; it promotes a common understanding that can be used in informed decision making, and it is useful for prioritizing allocation of limited resources or identifying basins that need improved groundwater management.
Next steps for CASGEM are to finalize the basin prioritization, possibly by April and to identify all the high and medium priority basins that need a designated monitoring entity. She noted that as part of the water code, if basins are not being monitored under CASGEM, those agencies would not be eligible for grant funding, so they will be providing a list of the high and medium priority basins that are not being monitored and provide those to the grant programs to determine eligibility.
As of February, 60% of the high and medium priority basins have a designated Monitoring Entity; 8% of those are partially monitored while 32% of them are not monitored at all under CASGEM, she said. The 32% is a broad category, she noted; some of those basins they are working with getting designated entities in place and some are closer than others, while there are two basins that they have not heard anything from at all.
Future CASGEM efforts include trying to determine how to best use the emergency drought funding, continuing the designation of monitoring entities, evaluating the extent of groundwater monitoring, collaborating with local agencies to conduct groundwater basin assessments, identifying regional trends and basins that are subject to overdraft, and updating Bulletin 118 boundaries.
She then presented a slide of a state map combining the designations and priorities, noting that the purple basins have a designated entity, the pink are basins that notifications are currently in process, the orange are medium priority basins with no notification or designation, and the red basins are high priority basins without any notifications. “So the purple, for the most part, those areas are pretty covered, the pink is where our work is, and we’re trying to get the oranges and reds moving forward and get those designated,” she said.
Some of the work they are continuing with is using data to produce dot maps that show change in groundwater storage; developing a groundwater contour map for the Central Valley, and identifying any areas where groundwater elevation is at or below historic levels. They are also looking at the possibility of acquiring INSAR data for subsidence, as well as looking at the screening criteria for identifying overdrafted groundwater basins, and updating regional hydrographs.
“Our director at a conference a few months ago had pulled this out of a quote from one of the directors, Harvey Banks, who was the director back in 1957,” Ms. Scruggs said, presenting a slide with the quote:
“It’s kind of interesting, but when you read it, it also clearly applies now. 50 years ago, and how far we’ve come. Groundwater was critical then, groundwater is still critical now.”