Multiple San Joaquin Valley groundwater projects got a significant shot of state funding this week to kickstart recharge, and other, projects.
On Monday, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced $150 million was awarded to 20 agencies through its first round of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Grant Program. That includes almost $84 million for 11 agencies in the San Joaquin Valley.
The funding is intended to support projects prompted by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), a 2014 law which aims to bring aquifers back into balance after decades of overpumping for agriculture. Local groundwater sustainability agencies (GSA) have until 2040 to reach sustainability, meaning more water doesn’t get pumped out of the ground then goes back in.
Much of the funding focuses on water recharge projects which are meant to capture water in wet years to refill underground aquifers and store it for times of drought.
“We actually have more opportunities to get things done quicker. That is the very faint silver lining of drought,” said Karla Nemeth, director of DWR, at a grant award ceremony on Wednesday. “We have an opportunity to get these projects in the ground so that when it does rain again…we will be ready to get that water into our groundwater basins and will be that much better off when the next drought period comes along.”
The money comes from $171 million from the Budget Act of 2021. The funding is being split between a range of projects.
The Kern Groundwater Authority GSA was awarded $7.6 million for four projects. The GSA will conduct a basin study to better understand the flow of groundwater and surface water in the Kern subbasin. It will also conduct a field by field analysis to provide data on the best way for certain crops to meet water demands and to develop more accurate accounting of water usage. The GSA will also study subsidence and improve its well monitoring network.
“Every beneficial user, including all of our disadvantaged communities in the basin, are going to benefit from the studies and analyses being funded with this award,” said Dan Waterhouse, chairman of the Kern Groundwater Authority at the award ceremony.
Westlands Water District also received $7.6 million for its corresponding GSA. Westlands is the largest agricultural water district in the country and oversees more than 600,000 acres in western Fresno County.
The money will fund Westlands’ Storage Treatment Aquifer Recharge Program which will build facilities to treat and store groundwater. It will also fund Westlands’ 5-year review and update of its groundwater sustainability plan. The funding will also be used to identify areas best suited for groundwater recharge.
“As we enter the third year of historic drought, Westlands remains committed to utilizing the most proactive, innovative, and scientifically-sound strategies in groundwater management,” said Tom Birmingham, general manager of Westlands, in a press release on Tuesday. “This grant funding from DWR will be instrumental to the District’s implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and to achieving groundwater sustainability.”
Other agencies will spread the funding out to an even bigger selection of projects.
The Greater Kaweah GSA’s $7.6 million will go to 13 different projects ranging from water quality studies to construction of new recharge basins.
“We are theoretically what I call the poster child of SGMA so we’re managing all the various issues,” said Aaron Fukuda, executive director of the Mid-Kaweah GSA, at the award ceremony where he accepted the funding on behalf of Greater Kaweah GSA. “In the SGMA world what we’re recognizing is we often are only delivering bad news…but things like this provide that third leg which makes management for us a success and that’s momentum.”