California farmers store water in underground aquifers that work like savings accounts
Aaron Fukuda admits the 15-acre sunken field behind his desk doesn’t look like much.
It is basically a large hole in the ground behind the headquarters of the Tulare Irrigation District, in the southern part of the central valley. But “for a water resources nerd like me, this is sexy and sexy infrastructure,” says Fukuda, the district general manager.
This earthen basin could be the key to the survival of a farming community that delivers huge amounts of vegetables, fruits and nuts to the rest of the country – but is lack of water. The basin only needs the Californian rivers to rise and flood it.
When the rains come in winter and swell the rivers, Fukuda and his colleagues open floodgates and send water through the irrigation canals to fill this basin and many others they have established. This captured water will seep into the ground and eventually make its way to a natural aquifer system hundreds of feet below.
Underground water has become a rare and regulated asset in the state. Farmers have pumped so much water from aquifers in this part of California that they have depleted, threatening water supplies for agriculture and communities that depend on wells for their household water. The Law on Sustainable Groundwater Management (SGMA), passed in 2014, has just come into force and it strictly limits the amount that farmers can pump from these aquifers, and these limits could put some farmers on the line. bankruptcy.
Water catchments like this one, however, offer farmers a way to survive. This is because the new law treats the underground aquifer like a bank account. If farmers put water into this account when water is plentiful, they can extract more when needed, during drought years. “It’s really the difference between our community surviving and not,” says Fukuda.
Floods go from nuisance to lifeline
In the past, many Californians viewed winter flooding as a nuisance, Fukuda says. Now that has now completely changed. “It’s liquid gold,” he said. “Cold, crisp floodwaters are gold these days.”
Farmers and water managers in the southern part of the central valley, where the water problem is most serious, seize the idea of the water reserve as a lifeline. Jon Reiter, breeder and water consultant, works with some of them.