New state program aims to help residents before wells go dry in California’s next, inevitable, drought

August 7, 2023
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
by Jesse Vad, SJV Water
The Department of Water Resources has built an online hub of information for residents in case their drinking water wells go dry. SOURCE: DWR
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
Jesse Vad, SJV Water

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After two multi-year episodes of intense drought over the past decade, there is finally a centralized hub of resources and information for well owners and communities that suffered when their wells went dry. 

Before the most recent drought lifted thanks to this year’s historic winter, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) launched its Be Well Prepared program in May. 

The program came out of a realization that even after three years of drought, well owners and many communities still didn’t know where to turn for assistance, said Mary Fahey, public information officer with DWR. 

“The real kind of mission or goal behind this program, number one, is to empower well owners so that they understand how their wells function and they know where to turn when they experience any type of well issues,” said Fahey. 

The program also aims to educate well owners, local officials and the general public about groundwater supplies, she said. 

The Be Well Prepared hub includes a variety of resources such as up-to-date groundwater conditions and dry-well susceptibility information. It also includes information about well maintenance, how to find a well contractor, steps to prepare a well for drought and water quality testing information. 

But the largest section on the program site is for assistance. These resources include steps to take if a well goes dry, emergency drought contacts by county, links to the state’s dry well reporting program, the small community drought relief program and contact information for the San Joaquin Valley-based nonprofit Self-Help Enterprises which can provide water quality tests, bottled water and hauled water. 

The new program is focused on getting the word about these resources to the public, said Steven Springhorn, technical assistance manager at DWR’s sustainable groundwater management office. 

The program is, “trying to really reduce the time it takes for a well owner to get as fast as possible, the local assistance that’s there to help them with their need,” said Springhorn. 

Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley have relied more heavily on groundwater as surface water supplies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have dwindled for environmental needs and after multiple years of prolonged drought. 

As farmers have pulled more deeply on groundwater supplies, the valley saw a dramatic increase in shallower drinking water wells that have gone dry.

By fall of 2022, the last year of the most recent drought, more than 1,000 drinking water wells in the valley went dry, according to DWR’s dry well reporting system. That’s out of 1,459 that were reported dry throughout the state. Those numbers only reflect what was reported to the state meaning the true number of dry wells is likely much higher.

Even this year, a record water year, nearly 250 wells in the San Joaquin Valley went dry, an indication of how long it takes groundwater to recover.

The new Be Well program is housed within DWR’s sustainable groundwater management office.

DWR has been pushing the program on social media, newsletters, press releases and through its outreach and education team, said Fahey. 

Drought coordination staff are also pushing the new hub in their work with local agencies, said Springhorn. DWR staff are also working with the California Water Institute at Fresno State to incorporate the program into its work, he said. 

“We are going to be moving in that direction to get more well owners aware of the importance of knowledge of their well and how to monitor their wells,” said Springhorn. “So they can see a problem coming before it happens, so that they just don’t go to their tap and then it’s just no water coming out.”

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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