California has historically gone through periods of wet and dry years. State, federal and local water suppliers have all adjusted their deliveries over the years based on the weather conditions. Now, in an era defined by more frequent extreme weather events, farmers who have historically relied on groundwater to supplement their operations will soon be forced to limit their groundwater withdrawals.
Farming in the age of SGMA requires new strategies to build water resiliency into the agricultural economy. Many of these strategies require collaborations, additional capital, and advanced planning. We will explore seven strategies to mitigate water risk in the age of SGMA, which include:
1 – Innovative irrigation technology solutions
2 – Groundwater recharge
3 – Groundwater banking
4 – New water sources
5 – Conjunctive uses
6 – Water markets
7 – Deep partnerships
1) Innovative Irrigation Technology Solutions
The reach of technology extends to all facets of agricultural life. From drones to desalination, farm efficiency aided by technological advancements creates new efficiencies and greater water security.
Drones with an array of hyperspectral, multispectral, or thermal sensors can identify crops that need more water over large areas. Early indications of poor crop health from drone observations can lead to crop saving actions that may have come too late without such advanced notice. Detecting irrigation issues is half the battle; utilizing new technologies to provide additional water is the other major piece of the puzzle.
Desalination in California’s Central Valley allows for water laden with decades of salt to become usable for irrigating crops. For example, WaterFX created a project in Panoche Water and Drainage District that harnesses energy from the sun using solar power for desalination operation. The project produced 5,000 acre-feet a year of freshwater ready to deliver to 10,000 homes or 2,000 acres of cropland.
While these solutions are perfect for understanding when and where to irrigate, and provide additional supplemental water supplies, more is needed to effectively manage water scarcity risks faced by Californian farmers and water managers. AQUAOSO provides analysis of water supply risks that complement many on-farm technologies.
2) Groundwater Recharge
Artificially recharging groundwater aquifers is not a beneficial use of water and requires a showing of an alternative beneficial use of water – unless there is a water supply contract in place and the water provider has the right to artificially recharge a basin. If a permit is required, a temporary permit may be obtained after showing sufficient water accounting.
Water accounting must quantify the beneficial use of water held in underground storage and will vary based on the size and complexity of the project, characteristics of the aquifer, and whether the groundwater storage and recharge occurs under a temporary or standard permit. This type of knowledge requires accurate water budget data.
3) Groundwater Banking
Groundwater banking is a method of storage that allows more control than pure reliance on snowpack from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is less expensive to construct and maintain than surface water reservoirs. Water is stored in the empty space within an aquifer in wet years and withdrawn in dry years to supplement water supplies. Groundwater banking occurs through “in-lieu recharge” or “direct recharge” methods. In-lieu recharge utilizes surface water instead of pumping groundwater, while direct recharge stores water by allowing the water to flow into the groundwater basin naturally.
For example, the Semitropic Water Storage District sends surface water in wet years to farmers for irrigation instead of pumping water from the basin. Additionally, Semitropic will utilize direct recharge methods to ensure the health of the groundwater basin.
4) New Water
The concept of “New Water,” also called developed water, can boggle the mind and conjure up visions of wizards and physicists fusing hydrogen and oxygen atoms out of thin air. New water is simply the product of regulatory language that describes clean water that was once wastewater that is treated by various technologies for a beneficial use, like irrigation. It is important to understand that water must be put to a beneficial use and actions taken with that water must never injure other water right holders that are entitled to that water.
However, water developed from a technological process is often allowed to be reused many times over without as many restrictions as other water recycling efforts. The new water topic gets both technical and legal requiring reasonable caution. However, arming yourself with water and soil data prior to asking questions can help determine whether developing new water is right for you.
5) Conjunctive Use
There is no question that a hydrogeological connection exists between groundwater and surface water. However, the legal system treats percolating groundwater differently from surface water causing difficulties for a water manager who wishes to use groundwater and surface water interchangeably. Conjunctive use focuses on using surface water in the wet years and groundwater in the dry years to meet water demand. Conjunctive use includes the practice of pumping surface water into groundwater banks for later use.
Under California Water Code Section 1011.5(a), the state declares, “policy of this state to encourage conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater supplies and to make surface water available for other beneficial uses.” Conjunctive use contemplates using water supplies only when needed, which makes water right holders uneasy due to concerns over forfeiture or diminishment of their water rights for nonuse. However, the legislature ensures that participants in conjunctive use programs would not forfeit or diminish their surface water rights by relying on stored groundwater.
Additionally, the legislature allows saved water from a conjunctive use program to be sold, leased, exchanged, or transferred if it complies with laws governing transfers. As a management tool, it allows flexibility in utilizing surface and groundwater to meet users’ needs and an inexpensive way to store groundwater or reserve surface water in a stream for various beneficial uses. However, data is required to make effective management decisions. Understanding this data can inform water managers and users on the best times to store or use surface or groundwater.
6) Water Markets
Water transfers are an effective and important tool for meeting water demands when water supplies are volatile. Due to a scarce water future, transfers are a necessary tool that requires an understanding of data to protect the soil, maintain agricultural viability, and serve the local community.
Unlike trading baseball cards, water is difficult to characterize, quantify, or even identify ownership of because of the arcane system through which water rights are determined and managed. Water’s unique properties and the clunky regulatory mechanisms seeking to control every molecule create a challenging water trading environment.
Regulation can stop trades from happening if the DWR or another responsible state agency perceives there is a negative impact on the environment or the economy. Complications with the pumping schedule in the politically contentious Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, for example, can also prevent water trade from taking place. If you can navigate the state and federal regulations, you must also ensure county ordinances allow you to transfer water outside of county lines.
With the advent of GSAs, groundwater transfers are subject to restrictions they may impose within the basin. There is a potential for conflict between GSAs and county governments over water transfers. A solid start to addressing these challenges, and even swaying the rule makers towards reform, begins with reliable water data.
Data is essential to water trades due to the myriad of restrictions on transfers and the lengthy process required for trades to successfully occur. If sellers knew how much they could trade at any given moment based on conditions statewide, or identify willing buyers, they would have the flexibility needed in this new, permanent state of water scarcity.
7) Deep Partnerships
Often technology is depicted as a robot, riddled with numbers and complexity. However, technology that will lead us into the future by doing real good is more about connecting people with tools, data, and partnerships. Managing something as complex as a farm or water district requires assistance understanding your peers’ problems and sharing solutions.
For example, water supply data collected at the regional level eventually makes its way to the state level, while the water districts and federal government collect water supply data. A deep partnership could exist if those datasets were housed in one location, utilizing one standard, and open to analysis. At AQUAOSO, our platform creates these conditions.
The AQUAOSO Water Security Platform was built with SGMA in mind.
Start by utilizing our free water map. Learn can also about the regions we serve beyond California and take action with your new-found knowledge by forming the plans and partnerships needed. You can get ahead of SGMA and we can help. Get a demo or talk to a water expert today!
In addition to creating the conditions for perfect partnerships, we work with our partners to increase the utility of the technology. We don’t build technology for the sake of technology, we build tools for people to make intelligent water risk management decisions. A perfect partnership of people and technology for a resilient water future. This is a future that AQUAOSO firmly believes in, and our platform gives our customers the right tools at the right time to help them effectively mitigate their water risk in the time of SGMA.