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, California. Jonathan Wong / DWR

COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE: California ponies up $300 million to prepare groundwater infrastructure for climate change

The Golden State says the large investment in improving infrastructure for water and carbon capture are key to addressing climate change impacts.

By Natalie Hanson, Courthouse News Service

California will spend about $300 million to prepare a vast groundwater and farming infrastructure system for the growing impacts of climate change.

California Department of Water Resources announced Tuesday that it has awarded $187 million to 32 groundwater sub-basins, which store water for future use that mainly flows from valuable snowmelt, through the Sustainable Groundwater Management Grant Program.

Governor Gavin Newsom also announced Tuesday that California’s Department of Food and Agriculture will award more than $106 million in grants to 23 organizations, which will design and implement new carbon sequestration and irrigation efficiency projects.

The funding will support 103 projects to enhance groundwater monitoring and recharge, water use efficiency, recycled water capacity and water quality improvement to support local sustainable groundwater management. More than $160 million will directly benefit tribes and underrepresented communities, the state promised.

The state is still recovering from years of historic drought. Despite a record-breaking winter of unprecedented storms and snow, state experts say many of California’s 515 groundwater basins have a long way to go to replenish what has been lost due to years of overpumping. Many communities rely on groundwater basins for water, particularly during periods of drought when surface water is severely depleted.

The state reported that during the 2023 water year, which is drawing to a close, groundwater basins gained an estimated 3.8 million acre-feet of water. However, the real total gained will not be known until April 2024 when annual reports are due from local groundwater sustainability agencies.

“This water year has proved the importance of managing our groundwater to capture and store as much water as possible in our local communities to prepare for future weather extremes, while supporting the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act,” said the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management deputy director Paul Gosselin. He referred to the 2014 act which emphasizes local control and requires local groundwater sustainability agencies to develop and implement plans that will bring groundwater basins into balanced conditions by 2040.

Some of the projects which will use the new funding include the Merced Irrigation-Urban Groundwater Sustainability Agency, which will $3.4 million to fallow more than 1,300 acres of cropland for groundwater recharge and reducing flood risk.

Riverside County will use $2 million so that San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency can install four groundwater monitoring wells in underrepresented communities. San Benito County Water District will use $11.5 million to expand and update its water treatment plant and construct five aquifer storage and recovery wells and a conveyance pipeline for water.

The department will offer Indigenous tribes aid through the Underrepresented Community Technical Assistance program, including free needs assessments and preliminary engineering reports to help communities develop potential groundwater projects.

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