Ag Today June 1, 2017

Groundwater planning launches amid an ideal year for recharging stressed aquifers

BY JOHN HOLLAND

jholland@modbee.com

Back in 2014, amid a five-year drought, state lawmakers directed groundwater managers to draft plans for sustainable use.

Wednesday, some of them talked about their early planning for a zone stretching from south Modesto to north Merced County. And thanks to the abundant storms of 2017, a recharge project could get under way in an especially stressed aquifer on this area’s east side.

This happened at a morning meeting in Denair hosted by the Turlock Groundwater Basin Association, made up of local governments and water suppliers roughly between the Tuolumne and Merced rivers.

Two agencies have just been established in this zone to carry out the state law. They have until early 2022 to complete their plans and about 20 more years to take the steps needed to stabilize the aquifers.

Michael Cooke, municipal services direcor for Turlock, noted a few possible measures — water conservation, recycling of wastewater, recharge with captured storm runoff, and supplementing city wells with treated river water.

All have been done already to some extent, including a Tuolumne River treatment plant that has served most of Modesto since 1995. Turlock and Ceres could do the same through a long-discussed project that has gained traction.

The Eastside Water District, stretching southwest from the Turlock Lake area, does not have regular access to surface water. It instead relies on wells for its 61,000 acres, mostly almonds, and has suffered from overdraft since the 1950s.

The district’s landowners voted last year to assess themselves for about $6 million in recharge projects that would fix about 10 percent of the 70,000 acre-feet of average annual overdraft. The first could happen this year with water from Rouse Lake, a small, private body of water, and possibly from a Turlock Irrigation District canal. The water would be injected into newly drilled wells filled with gravel, Eastside consultant Kevin Kauffman said.

The Turlock basin will have one plan for the hilly eastern portion, because of its more severe overdraft, and another for flat land stretching to the San Joaquin River.

“They recognize that the west side does not want to pay for the overdraft problems on the east side,” Kauffman said.