The Sacramento-San Joaquin
The Problem We Are Solving
Parched rivers, subsiding aquifers and a dry Mediterranean climate have provided California the opportunity to consider new approaches for integrated water resource management. Challenges around groundwater sustainability, surface water management and irrigation efficiencies all overlap geographically in the state’s northern Sacramento River Watershed. This watershed is the source of 31% of California’s total surface water runoff.
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.
How We Are Solving It
In 2018, we doubled the number of staff working in this watershed and began setting the stage for scaling up program implementation. Time is of the essence for many local farmers and irrigators who comprise the recently formed groundwater sustainability agencies that have to complete sustainability plans by 2020 or 2022.
We’ve built firm relationships with stakeholders that represent more than 30,000 acres of surface water irrigated land and 70,000 acres of groundwater-dependent land across the Northern Delta. We’re analyzing conservation practices for more than 40 crop types across 180,000 acres in Solano Subbasin. We’re also working with agricultural partners, nonprofits and vulnerable communities to identify integrated approaches to protect shallow groundwater that support critical ecosystems as well as drinking water and irrigation water.
Our partnership with the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, built in part on TFT’s quantified conservation approach, secured $280.5 million in state funds to use recycled wastewater instead of groundwater on agricultural fields. By reducing the need to pump groundwater, unique habitats in the basin will benefit, including wetlands, vernal pools, streamside forests and the groundwater-connected Cosumnes River. These areas support listed native species, including fall-run Chinook salmon, sandhill cranes and giant garter snakes.
Additionally, we kicked off a collaboration to pilot technologies to track groundwater use in one of the largest and most at-risk aquifers in North America. Our project uses remote Internet of things (IoT) sensors to measure and transmit real-time water extraction data to a blockchain-enabled platform.
We are working with dedicated partners committed to the same goal we are – the resilience of water resources. And we’re excited to pilot new technologies and methods with them. It’s a critical step in scaling up solutions quickly, so that we can apply them across the state.
‒ Becky Rittenburg, Conservation Programs Manager
The blockchain project moved into implementation in 2019, with sensors installed at 10 sites and, over the next year, more than 20 sites could be up and running. Recruitment of landowners for the Regional San recycled water project will ramp up as well in 2019.