Regs relaxed for storing flood water

March 10, 2023
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
by Jesse Vad, SJV Water
Water snakes through the Kern River from just east of Coffee Road west past Allen Road. Lois Henry / SJV Water
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
Jesse Vad, SJV Water

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Governor Gavin Newsom is hoping to see the deluge from the ongoing storms socked away for dry times by making it easier to recharge underground aquifers. 

The governor issued an executive order Friday suspending some regulatory requirements to divert flood water for groundwater recharge. The hope is to recharge as much water as possible since more storms are causing extreme flooding in some parts of the state. 

The move comes after some farmers, water districts and even one county Board of Supervisors complained in January that state red tape was wasting a precious opportunity.  

State officials acknowledged that recharge requirements are sometimes seen as, “a small deterrent that exists that would prevent people from water users and water districts from being able to take advantage of this,” said Alex Stack, deputy communications director for the office of Gov. Newsom. “Our hope is, let’s make it as easy as possible during flood stage to make sure we can recharge groundwater.” 

But it doesn’t mean that anyone can start yanking water out of rivers at will. Local agencies must make a call of imminent flood risk for the order to apply, said Paul Gosselin, deputy director of the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act for the Department of Water Resources, in a media briefing.  

There isn’t a projected amount of water officials expect to see from this yet. They are, “trying to capture as much water in the ground as possible,” said Gosselin. 

The order goes into effect immediately and will remain active until June, even after storms have stopped, to encompass expected snowmelt. 

It’s not the only action the state has taken to try and take advantage of the excess water. 

On Thursday, the state Water Resources Control Board approved a petition by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to divert 600,000 acre feet of San Joaquin River floodwaters to wildlife refuges and groundwater recharge. 

The board also streamlined temporary groundwater storage permits for floodwater and has so far this winter authorized more than 186,000 acre feet of recharge through those processes. 

In the San Joaquin Valley, aquifers have been severely overdrafted as surface water supplies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have dwindled for environmental needs and after multiple years of prolonged drought. As a result, aquifer levels plummeted causing shallow drinking water wells to go dry throughout the San Joaquin Valley. 

The excessive pumping also damaged canals and other infrastructure as land collapsed in some areas. 

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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