HomeTop StoriesSevere storms are not enough to replenish California's groundwater

Severe storms are not enough to replenish California’s groundwater

SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY — Severe winter storms have pulled parts of California out of the drought, but as reservoirs refill, the state’s groundwater is still dry.

The rain and snow are promising for the here and now.

“It’s going to mean more water allocations for cities and growers this year,” said UC Davis Professor of Cooperative Extension, a groundwater expert. “But if next year is going to be a very dry winter, then we will be back very quickly where we were last year.”

The US Drought Monitor has released new data on the country’s drought. In November 2022, most of California was in the extreme or exceptional drought category. As of March 2, 2023, all of California is off the red, but water experts warn that this data still doesn’t mean the drought is over.

“We’ve taken more water out of these aquifers than we put in, so they’re overdrawn,” Harter said. “Account balances have been falling all the time.”

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San Joaquin almond farmer of Travaille and Phippan partner David Phippan told CBS13 that he only pumps groundwater as a last resort. Instead, his farm gets water from the Stanislaus River. He said that due to the wet weather this year he will have enough surface water for his crops.

“It means we don’t have to rely on those resources that I thought were always our backup,” said Phippan. “I thought if we couldn’t get irrigation water from the district we would use spring water.”

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) determined on Thursday that six sub-basins in the Central Valley are still in the overdraft. The Delta-Mendota Subbasin is one of six. It is located in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Fresno, Madera, and San Benito counties.

The six sub-basins will have to establish their sustainability plans before the state comes up with its own mitigation measures.

“Pumpers are going to have to get meters on their wells and they should pay for the water they are drawing,” Harter told CBS13.

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The sub-basins in overdraft conditions must carry out repairs, such as looking at the connection between groundwater and surface water and drawing up a plan to prevent wells from running dry.

“Maybe at some point they can’t farm anymore, or they need dry land crops that have very low values,” Phippan said.

The state does not immediately intervene. The DWR first gives 90 days notice to a public probationary hearing. From that moment on, the sub-basin will be given a probationary period of one year to determine the water plan. If the sub-basin still does not meet the national objectives, the Hoogheemraadschap will implement an interim plan.

The DWR recommended approval of groundwater sustainability plans for the following six basins that were found to be critically oversubscribed:

  • Eastern San Joaquin Subbasin in San Joaquin County
  • Merced Subbasin in Merced County
  • Cuyama Basin in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura, and Kern counties
  • Paso Robles Subbasin in San Luis Obispo County
  • Westside Subbasin in Fresno and Kings counties
  • Kings Subbasin in Fresno County
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The DWR said these six basins lack plans:

  • Delta-Mendota Subbasin in San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Fresno, Madera, and San Benito Counties
  • Chowchilla subbasin in Madera and Merced provinces
  • Kaweah Subbasin in Tulare and Kings counties
  • Tule Subbasin in Tulare County
  • Tulare Lake Subbasin in Kings County
  • Kern subbasin in Kern County

The groundwater sustainability agencies are required to implement the plans as soon as they are adopted locally, even if the basin comes under state intervention.

The goal is for every watershed in California to have sustainable groundwater by 2040.

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