The Sacramento-San Joaquin
Why We Work Here:
While our more mature programs in Oregon are busy on the ground, we’re starting on the ground floor in California. Here, the mantra “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” is coming to the fore. The state enacted sweeping legislation to collect critical information on surface water and groundwater use to support new and more sustainable water management plans. However, these initiatives are “siloed,” run by different program offices. The data are often never aggregated, decreasing overall effectiveness. TFT is stepping in to connect the dots and ensure this opportunity for innovative solutions leads to real results.
The state’s long-term drought has provided the opportunity to consider new approaches to dealing with the challenges of groundwater sustainability, surface water management and irrigation efficiencies.
All of these concerns overlap geographically in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River basin. The Freshwater Trust is currently working in three geographies within the basin
The Northern Delta is an area rich with natural resources and a history that includes more than a century of sustainable farming and wildlife stewardship. Much of this area was transferred from federal land to California in 1850 as a part of the Swamp and Overflow Act, where it was reclaimed for agriculture. This region has ample, naturally high water tables, which results in groundwater near the surface. It has an extensive levee system, which conveys surface water to local crops and drinking water as far as the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Solano Subbasin (part of the Sacramento Valley Groundwater Basin) covers the eastern half of Solano County and extends into the Northern Delta. It is the primary source of groundwater used for municipal, agricultural and domestic supply in Solano County.
South American and Cosumnes Subbasins:
The South American Subbasin is bounded on the west by the Sacramento River, on the north by the American River, and on the south by the Cosumnes and Mokelumne Rivers. These perennial rivers interact strongly with groundwater in the basin. The Cosumnes River, southeast of Sacramento, begins in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and empties into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The Cosumnes Subbasin contains rich agricultural lands as well as some of the largest remaining wetlands and riparian areas in the Central Valley.
Progress to Date:
Since 2016, TFT has built multiple programs in the basin. In response to Senate Bill 88, we developed a measurement method for surface water diversion that addresses the unique qualities of the Northern Delta region. In 2018, 174 surface water diversions covering more than 40,000 farmed acres in the region — including wine grapes, pears, corn, alfalfa, safflower, tomatoes and wheat — had enrolled in our five-year study.
For groundwater concerns in the same area, we helped support the formation of the Northern Delta Groundwater Sustainability Agency. This means 17 local agencies formed into one integrated agency and have begun work on a unified plan for sustainably managing groundwater use. These agencies are understaffed, so TFT provides the capacity to gather and analyze data and develop effective sustainability measures.
In the Solano Subbasin, we are also supporting the Solano Joint Powers Agency in developing their Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP). TFT secured a grant to integrate our BasinScout prioritization method into the GSP and to collaborate with severely disadvantaged communities.
In 2017, we began working with the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District (Regional San), which provides wastewater treatment services, on a range of surface water and groundwater management initiatives.
TFT supported the preparation of an application for funding through the state’s Water Storage Investment Program for a groundwater storage project. This project would create a sustainable, drought-proof, and climate-change resistant water supply to agriculture as well as wetlands and forest conservation lands.
By the end of 2017, this project proposal was one of the highest ranked applications. In 2018, Regional San received full funding of $280.5 million from the California Water Commission and TFT is now supporting the development of the Ecological Plan and program design optimization to improve Chinook and Sandhill crane habitat, and restore and enhance wetlands, riparian forests, and vernal pool complexes.
In 2018, TFT also received funding from the Betty and Gordon Moore Foundation and The Water Foundation to prototype the first blockchain-enabled platform developed for sustainable groundwater management, in partnership with IBM Research and IoT sensor company SweetSense, Inc. As allocations are set on groundwater use, markets will emerge as a management tool for groundwater users to exchange shares of groundwater in dry and wet years while meeting basin-scale sustainability goals. The prototyping process includes installing a network of IoT sensors on private, agricultural production wells within the Solano Subbasin in the Sacramento Valley. The sensors transmit real-time water extraction data through a satellite network to a blockchain-enabled platform, which anonymizes, encrypts, and records data into a ledger. Together with local stakeholders and project partners, TFT will develop a dashboard for users to exchange and track groundwater shares while integrating mechanisms to protect groundwater-dependent ecosystems and vulnerable communities.
Over time, our experience, fine-tuned models, and ability to bring together multiple stakeholders will establish our leadership in sustainable surface and groundwater planning and management in California.