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Calif.'s Newsom: Use floodwater for aquifer rechargeCalif.'s Newsom: Use floodwater for aquifer recharge

Atmospheric rivers bring abundant snowpack, flooded farm fields.

Farm Press Staff

March 14, 2023

3 Min Read
Storm clouds
Storm clouds loom over Northern California on Monday, March 13.Tim Hearden

As "atmospheric river" storms continue to pound California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued an executive order making it easier for floodwaters to be used for aquifer recharge.

The March 10 order suspends regulations and restrictions on permitting and use to enable water agencies and water users to divert flood stage water for the purpose of boosting groundwater recharge, Western Growers explains.

“California is seeing extreme rain and snow, so we’re making it simple to redirect water to recharge groundwater basins," Newsom said in a statement. "This order helps us take advantage of expected intense storms and increases state support for local stormwater capture efforts.”

A water strategy Newsom unveiled last summer called for more spending new sources of water supply, accelerating projects and modernizing how the state manages water through new technology. 

In a statement, Western Growers President & CEO Dave Puglia said Newsom’s plan “recognizes the urgent need to build new and improve existing infrastructure and to streamline and improve the practicality of the regulatory processes that govern them. Critically, that means new and expanded surface and groundwater storage to capture wet year flood flows that are too infrequent to be missed.”

Parade of storms

Newsom's latest move comes as relentless storms over the last two weeks have produced an abundant snowpack while causing widespread flooding. Storms over the weekend pushed the Pajaro River near Watsonville over its banks, causing the evacuation of about 1,700 mostly Latino farmworkers, according to The Associated Press. The extent of property damage in Monterey County isn't yet certain, but county officials have sought state and federal help.

California's statewide snowpack was 215% of normal and twice its April 1 average as of March 13, according to the state Department of Water Resources. More than 20 inches of snow fell at a Sierra Nevada measuring station on Friday and Saturday, March 10-11, the AP reported.

Another big storm was passing through today, March 14, then the Central Valley could get a couple of days' respite before more rain arrives this weekend, the National Weather Service predicts. The federal Climate Prediction Center foresees higher-than-average chances of precipitation to linger throughout the West over the next month.

Storage in Lake Oroville, the State Water Project's chief reservoir, has increased approximately 178 feet and gained 1.66 million acre-feet of water since Dec. 1, the DWR reports.

With ongoing wet weather and in anticipation of increased runoff inflows into the reservoir, DWR began increasing outflows through the Hyatt Powerplant on Wednesday, March 15.

Drought eases

While growers are grateful for the easing of a three-year drought, the storms are causing some headaches, including flooded farm fields. Cold temperatures and low snow levels came just as the almond bloom was reaching high gear.

The wet winter has led to improved initial water allocations for farmers. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced in late February announced that settlement contractors along the Sacramento River and water users in the eastern San Joaquin Valley would get their full allocations, while most other irrigators south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta started with a 35% allocation.

So far, the DWR promises to deliver 35% of requested supplies to its 29 State Water Project contractors.

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