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California invests in critical Central Valley water infrastructure projects

The money will go to projects aimed at helping the region weather future droughts.

PARLIER, Calif. (CN) — California’s water authorities will spend $15 million in three crucial water management zones within the drought-ravaged southern Central Valley. 

The hub of agricultural production in the Golden State, the Central Valley has also faced the most dire impacts from another historic drought, as thousands of wells went dry last year and many communities faced a total lack of safe drinking water.

The state’s authorities say they are releasing funds to begin projects to prevent such hardship in future droughts. The Department of Water Resources along with California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot came to the small city of Parlier on Thursday to announce three grants totaling $15 million to improve water infrastructure in the region. 

The funds from the Department of Water Resources' Integrated Regional Water Management Program — part of the “Go Golden” program to help large organizations, water agencies and communities build long-term water conservation and resilience planning — are going to eight local project sponsors. City leaders joined the state agencies at Parlier’s future project site that will optimize stormwater basins for groundwater recharge to help improve local water supplies and reduce flood risk. 

Grants will go to Kings Basin Water Authority, the city of Bakersfield and Pixley Irrigation District to support local water resilience efforts. The funds will be used for a pre-selected list of projects that focus on improving groundwater recharge, stormwater capture and water conservation. 

Parlier, located near the metropolitan Fresno area, is one of the underserved communities receiving funds to help protect current water storage and improve the safety of water available to its residents, according to Mayor Alma Beltran. Another project will deliver surface water to landowners in the cities of Arvin, Edison and surrounding communities that rely on groundwater supplies.

Mary Fast, left, and Parlier Mayor Alma Beltran at a press conference announcing awards in Parlier, Calif. (Screenshot via Courthouse News)
Parlier Mayor Alma Beltran speaks at a press conference announcing awards in Parlier, Calif. (Screenshot via Courthouse News)

Mary Fast, board chair of the Kings Basin Water Authority, said the authority will get $6.2 million for three projects in the area to increase stormwater storage capacity, flood protection and groundwater recharge support. Since 2009, the Authority has joined with nearly 60 public and private agencies to implement Kings Basin’s regional water management plan.

Fast said her family once told her “We can produce anything here. Well, without water that’s literally a dead statement.” She pointed out the lack of safe drinking water facing the surrounding communities, and encouraged the cooperation of varied public and private interests to “set aside our differences” in this effort. 

Bakersfield got more than $6 million to support three projects through Edison Water Storage and two water companies. The city will partner with the Rainbird Valley Mutual Water Company to provide 1,900 acre-feet of clean drinking water per year to 85 service connections and 238 people in disadvantaged communities.

Daniel Maldonado, assistant water resources director for the city, said the money will power the reconstruction of water management infrastructure at Kern River, to increase efficiency and enhance water supplies to help reach recharge projects. 

“The city of Bakersfield has a lot of water recharge projects in the area, and this will allow us to fill those recharge projects and recharge the groundwater aquifer,” he said. “This project will help improve (Sacramento) delta water availability ... and improve the region's self-reliance and become less reliant on the delta.”

Pixley Irrigation District now has about $2 million for several different projects, including constructing a new 5.5-mile-long canal to provide surface water for irrigation to approximately 5,500 acres of land that rely solely on groundwater. It would increase flood protection for downstream infrastructure, crops and more than 1,000 residents of the community of Alpaugh, while also capturing floodwater for recharge.

Don Tucker, the district’s consulting engineer, said the area’s water supply is highly variable — using a cross-valley canal, diversion rights out of Deer Creek and cooperative agreements with other authorities while relying heavily on extremely wet years.

“Most notable is the district's ability to increase water supplies to reduce groundwater pumping and increase groundwater charging,” Tucker said. “By reducing groundwater pumping, it also protects the groundwater supply for the surrounding disadvantaged communities. When these wet years occur, it often coincides with flooding on Deer Creek, and the project relieves pressure on Deer Creek.” 

Drinking water protection

The Department of Water Resources and California Department of Food and Agriculture also awarded $25 million to three groundwater sustainability agencies to preserve critical groundwater supplies in Central Valley communities. The agencies are located in Madera County, the Greater Kaweah and Eastern Tule areas.

“Many California communities, especially those located in the Central Valley, rely on groundwater and drinking water wells for their water supply needs, particularly during extreme drought. LandFlex is an example of the state taking proactive steps to protect drinking water supplies for California’s most vulnerable communities,” said Department of Water Resources director Karla Nemeth.

Agencies will use the funds to work with growers to temporarily idle agricultural lands to provide immediate benefits for vulnerable domestic wells, keeping up to 5,000 acre-feet of groundwater in the ground for one year. The program will help permanently eliminate the use of groundwater overdraft on each acre, to prevent the extraction of 100,000 to 200,000 acre-feet of groundwater.

“This program not only has the potential to be an effective tool for GSAs (groundwater sustainability agencies) and their growers to push towards sustainability but to provide a much needed helping hand to our vulnerable communities in the San Joaquin Valley whose drinking water is being severely impacted by overdraft and the state’s prolonged drought,” said Eddie Ocampo of Self-Help Enterprises. 

While the state has a healthy snowpack due to recent atmospheric river storms and colder storms underway this week, the Department of Water Resources has cautioned that it is not yet clear how much new stormwater has improved the state’s drought outlook. Groundwater supplies are slower to recover and drinking water wells throughout California are still at risk of going dry because groundwater is being pumped faster than it can be replenished. The state drought monitor shows that as of Thursday most regions are still in critical to severe drought, particularly the southern Central Valley and upper north state valleys.

Categories: Environment Government Regional

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