Heavy equipment is digging a deep hole in the parking lot at Montgomery and Huntoon streets in downtown Oroville, trying to undo a bit of dangerous history. The location was the site of a manufactured gas plant that operated from 1876 to 1926, according to PG&E.
In a recent decision in litigation over flows and salmon survival in the Scott River system, the California Court of Appeal has ruled that groundwater pumping that diminishes the volume or flow of water in a navigable surface stream may violate the public trust. The public trust does not protect groundwater itself. “Rather, the public trust doctrine applies if extraction of groundwater adversely impacts a navigable waterway to which the public trust doctrine does apply.”
Groundwater depletion is a big problem in parts of California. But it is not the only groundwater problem. The state also has many areas of polluted groundwater, and some places where groundwater overdraft has caused the land to subside, damaging roads, canals and other infrastructure. Near the coast, heavy groundwater pumping has caused contamination by pulling seawater underground from the ocean. But if you wanted to obtain a permit from the state to manage these problems by recharging groundwater, you could be out of luck.
The common assumption that you can pump all the water you want from beneath your property ignores hydrologic reality and has allowed a legal theft of groundwater from many neighbors. To understand why that’s true, and how this came about, you have to know a little about how water acts underground and how it gets to the surface.
Thirteen percent of Americans, some 42 million people, use a household well for their water supply. The largest clusters of people who use wells are not where you might expect. There are frequent reports of dry wells in the American West, but despite its ranch-and-frontier image, the region is the most urban in the country.
Like so many rivers, the Colorado is closely linked to groundwater. A US Geological Survey study found that more than half of the streamflow in the upper Colorado Basin originates as groundwater. We talked to Doug Kenney—director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado and a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center research network―about managing groundwater in the basin.
The Paso Robles Groundwater Basin is critically over-drafted and county leaders continue to work on a plan to fix that. So far, water experts and district leaders have drafted 5 out of 13 chapters of the state-mandated Groundwater Sustainability Plan. They need to submit the full plan to the state by Jan. 31, 2020.
Concerns are rising Kern might lose local control over groundwater pumping — an activity vital to farmers, ranchers, oil producers and others — after county officials moved to scale back their own oversight role. The county informed property owners Aug. 24 it does not have the expertise or the money to actively manage groundwater use in portions of Kern where no other management authority exists.
Stanislaus County will ask the state Supreme Court for a ruling on whether environmental review is a necessary step for a new water well. In August, a state appeals court overturned the Stanislaus Superior Court’s decision in the Protecting Our Water lawsuit, which sought an injunction against county well permit approvals.
In a ceremony in the City of Industry with the San Gabriel Basin Water Quality Authority, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today [Sept. 20] announced the start of construction of a groundwater treatment system in Puente Valley as part of ongoing cleanup at the San Gabriel Valley Superfund Site. The new $40 million treatment system, expected to be completed by 2020, will capture and remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs), 1,4 dioxane, perchlorate, and hexavalent chromium from groundwater.
Local agencies in critically overdrafted groundwater basins in California have less than a year and a half draft their plans to achieve sustainable groundwater management. These Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs), formed under California’s 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), will need to avoid six specified “undesirable results” ranging from seawater intrusion and degraded water quality to land subsidence. A new report by Water in the West visiting scholar Letty Belin guides these agencies through how to understand and comply with the requirement that GSAs must not cause “significant and unreasonable adverse impacts on beneficial uses of surface water.”
As California begins handing out $2.5 billion in state funds for several new water management projects, a shift is taking place in the ways officials are considering storing water. To contend with the likelihood of future extreme droughts, some of these new strategies rely on underground aquifers — an approach far removed from traditional dam-based water storage.
In increasingly dry conditions, cities from Australia and the Middle East to the American Southwest are pursuing groundwater, either as an integral piece of their future water supply or as an emergency stopgap measure. Los Angeles, looking long-term, aims to double the share of its water supply that comes from groundwater by 2040 and cut reliance on distant and shrinking sources like the Colorado River.
The appeals are piling up over a recent state decision blocking the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s plans to pipe groundwater from Eastern Nevada. Four days after water authority board members approved a court challenge of State Engineer Jason King’s Aug. 17 ruling, opponents of the controversial pipeline project launched an appeal of their own targeting a specific part of last month’s decision.
Monsoon storms in the desert Southwest are vital for recharging groundwater – but it now appears likely this recharge effect may be compromised by climate change. The major cities of the Southwest – Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Las Vegas – currently get most of their freshwater from the Colorado River or its tributaries. That river, however, is experiencing its 19th straight drought year, suggesting a new permanent dry state is gripping the giant watershed.
To help Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) move forward with drafting and implementing their sustainability plans under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), Maven’s Notebook, in partnership with Stanford’s Program on Water in the West (WitW) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), launched a new website, The Groundwater Exchange, to provide a central hub of science-based information related to SGMA.
The Bureau of Reclamation has released a draft environmental document for public review on the Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians of Big Valley Rancheria project to construct a backup drinking well on tribal property. The Big Valley Rancheria water treatment system requires an additional well when the existing well is shut down for repairs and routine maintenance.
Two of the agencies that will manage the water beneath Butte County began to take shape this week, one with some controversy. Groundwater sustainability agencies are required under the September 2014 law regulating the state’s aquifers, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.