On Tuesday, the state announced $187 million in funding for its final round of groundwater agency funding for the time being. The money will fund 103 groundwater projects throughout the state including four in the San Joaquin Valley.
The Oakdale Irrigation District in Stanislaus County will receive $14.3 million to expand a groundwater recharge facility and increase storage by 600%.
The Merced Irrigation-Urban Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) in Merced County will receive $3.4 million for two projects which will fallow more than 1,300 acres of farmland. The project aims to increase groundwater storage, improve habitat and decrease flood risks for nearby communities.
The Banta-Carbona Irrigation District in San Joaquin County will receive $10 million to buy surface water for crops that have been relying on groundwater.
The White Wolf GSA in Kern County will receive $4.8 million to improve data collection, build a canal intertie and piping for groundwater banking.
The money comes from both the state’s general fund and Proposition 68, the $4 billion fund created by the Parks and Water Bond Act of 2018.
The funding program targets groundwater sustainability and is part of the state’s initiative alongside the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act which aims to bring severely overpumped groundwater basins back to sustainable levels by 2040.
The state doesn’t have any more funding left in this grant program, said Keith Wallace, supervising water resources engineer at the state Department of Water Resources SGM office. But there is interest to keep the program going if possible, he said. If another water bond comes along, more funding could be allocated to the program, he said.
This round of the program didn’t have nearly enough money for the amount requested by applicants.
There were 82 applicants totaling $780 million in grant requests, said Wallace. The state awarded funding to 32 of those applicants.
“We have a competitive process,” said Wallace.
Applicants are reviewed and scored based on many different criteria. But preference is given to projects that benefit underrepresented communities and long term groundwater sustainability, Wallace said.
“We had a feeling that we were going to be oversubscribed,” said Wallace. “Didn’t expect to be four times like it was.”
The four projects in the San Joaquin Valley are expected to benefit underrepresented communities by bringing in surface water, repurposing ag land and reducing demand on groundwater, said Wallace.
“There are a lot of underrepresented communities and also small farms in these areas that rely on shallow aquifers,” said Wallace. “And so when these groundwater levels rise, it will make those wells on those underrepresented communities and small farm lands much more reliable.”
These projects will hopefully dramatically reduce the likelihood of nearby domestic wells going dry, he added.
All the projects have different timelines but they also have all committed to a completion date of 2026 at the latest, said Wallace. Many should be completed before that.