It may be a record wet year but the state is still dolling out millions to prep for California’s next drought

June 16, 2023
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
by Jesse Vad, SJV Water
In December 2021, an early snowfall frosted low lying hills outside of Bakersfield. Despite the promising start, though, the 2021-2022 water year was dismally dry. Lois Henry / SJV Water
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
Jesse Vad, SJV Water

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Even as some San Joaquin Valley communities still have flood damage to fix, new drought preparedness funding has been awarded by the state.

Millions of dollars are going to local groundwater agencies for farmland retirement and repurposing. And some funding will help update infrastructure in small communities. 

The state Department of Water Resources announced on Wednesday $10 million through its 10th round of funding from the Small Community Drought Relief Program. This funding round includes two San Joaquin Valley projects. 

Community projects

The North Kaweah Mutual Water Company in Tulare County will receive $40,000 to replace a leaking water storage tank. And the city of Parlier in Fresno County will receive $765,000 to drill one of its community wells deeper. 

Parlier has four community wells which serve its population of about 15,000. In summer months, when water demand goes up, it needs all four wells. But one of the wells has been struggling to produce enough water since groundwater levels have declined over recent years, said Javier Andrade, city engineer for Parlier. 

The wells were working twice as hard as they used to, said Andrade. The turbines in the failing well stopped working but even after that was fixed, there hasn’t been enough water for the well to work properly, he said. 

“The reality is, we have to go deeper unfortunately,” said Andrade. 

The well is 200 feet deep and the state funding will pay to drill the well to 500 feet, he added. 

The state funding is huge for the small city, said Andrade. 

“This really sets us up for resiliency,” said Andrade. “We only have the four wells running and we need all of them.” 

Down in Tulare County, the North Kaweah Mutual Water Company serves about 63 connections in the town of Three Rivers above Lake Kaweah. It’s been struggling with aging infrastructure on top of severe damage from flooding in March. 

The state funding will pay for a new storage tank. The company’s current tank is old and full of holes and can only be filled up to about 70%, said Mitch Allen, president of the volunteer board for the company. 

Before the tank can be replaced, the company first has to figure out how to fix roads damaged from the flooding. The access road to the tank is still washed out, said Allen. Because of the history of how the company was formed, it is also responsible for road repairs, he added. And while it does have a road repair fund, there isn’t enough money to address all the damages from this year’s severe flooding. 

“We’re trying to find ways to get the things done that we need,” said Allen. 

Allen doesn’t know what the cost will be yet for the rest of the road repairs. Staff is waiting for quotes from four different contractors. 

Still, the funding for the storage tank is a good deal, said Allen. 

“This is one of those situations where you can actually do something proactive instead of just putting out fires,” said Allen. 

Farmland retirement

DWR isn’t the only state department doling out money right now. 

The California Department of Conservation announced $35 million in funding on Friday through its Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program which aims to repurpose farmland to help reduce groundwater pumping. 

Each of the grants awarded are for $8.89 million. 

That money will go to three projects in the San Joaquin Valley: 

  • The East Turlock Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) will use the funding to identify repurposing project locations and develop opportunities for floodplain reconnection, recharge, solar projects, habitat enhancement and more. 
  • Westlands Water District GSA will use the funding to plan and repurpose land in Kings and Fresno counties by using a community engagement process to consider multiple uses for repurposed land. 
  • The Merced Subbasin GSA will use the funding to identify long term repurposing project locations, including a wildlife corridor. 

“Despite our wet winter, there are still many places in California where groundwater basins have been drawn down significantly over years of extreme drought, which cannot be adequately replenished by one wet year,” Department of Conservation Director David Shabazian said in a press release. “The grants we awarded this year build upon the first round of funding, and in some cases are adjacent to regions that received funding last year. We are creating a model of how regions can achieve groundwater sustainability in a strategic, coordinated way.

Jesse Vad, SJV Water

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.

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