The Freshwater Trust helps 19 agencies improve groundwater in northern California

July 14, 2017

The Freshwater Trust (TFT) recently supported 19 local agencies to collaboratively and sustainably manage groundwater in California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Passed in 2014, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) spurred the creation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), groups formed from local agencies, such as reclamation and water districts, that are responsible for land and water management in a particular region. SGMA charged the GSAs with developing and implementing a plan to sustainably manage their local groundwater resources by 2040.

“After years of drought, this legislation was California’s first attempt at preventing groundwater resources in the state from being overused and reversing declines where they are occurring, ” said Erik Ringelberg, TFT’s California director. “The Freshwater Trust was able to help these groups form GSAs and ultimately work together for the benefit of freshwater here in the Delta.”

With TFT’s assistance, the 19 groups intend to form one integrated GSA with a united plan for a sustainably managed groundwater basin. TFT will analyze the current status of groundwater resources and develop strategies to address any impairment of them.

SGMA requires the plans to be written between 2020 and 2022 and groundwater sustainability to be achieved by 2040. Achieving sustainability will include preventing actions such as the intrusion of seawater and the chronic lowering of groundwater levels.

“TFT understands the inherently integrated nature of water,” said Ringelberg. “We believe it’s critical that the on-the-ground solutions we’re employing as a community are just as integrated as water itself.”

Northern California’s Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta covers more than 1,100 square miles, with nearly 75% in agricultural production. It’s been referred to as the “nexus of California’s statewide water system,” providing water to the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as to coastal and southern California.

It is also one of the largest estuaries in North America, supporting more than 20 different fish species and hundreds of other plants and animals.

“The Delta is the freshwater hub of California, and there are many stakeholders who benefit from ensuring there is enough water to sustain beneficial uses,” said Ringelberg. “Farmers want to be able to continue farming without depleting the local groundwater resource they rely on for irrigation. Others rely on it as their exclusive drinking water source.”

In addition to forming GSAs, TFT is currently working with more than 200 farmers in the Delta to help them fulfill the reporting obligations of a new statewide bill to track surface water use.

Passed in 2015, Senate Bill 88 made it mandatory for those diverting more than 10-acre feet of surface water per year to install calibrated meters by January 1, 2018. An acre-foot, or one acre covered by one foot of water, is the amount of water used by one or two five-member families in a year.

Working with the Delta Watermaster, TFT developed an alternative approach irrigators in the region can use to meet the requirements of the law.

Instead of installing meters, which are often unreliable, irrigators can meet the requirement of the new law by working with TFT to combine real crop and water management data with state of the art models and remote sensing technology to create a more accurate picture of actual water use.

TFT opened its first office in Sacramento last year. The nonprofit has four other offices in Oregon and Idaho.

“California has pushed forward significant legislation that aims to ensure the world of water is being tracked and responsibly cared for,” said Ringelberg. “TFT is seeking to bring multiple parties together to make it easier to comply with these new regulations, which we’re confident will help ensure a future with freshwater for all stakeholders in the state.”

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Additional Resources

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#groundwater    #GSA    #SGMA    #sustainable agriculture    #Sustainable Groundwater Management Act    

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