Innovative Groundwater Recharge Initiative Launched in the San Joaquin Valley

Flooded Field

Sustainable Conservation and our partners are promoting adoption of an innovative technique - applying seasonal flood water on existing cropland - to address the critical problem of groundwater overdraft in California.

Groundwater overdraft is a serious problem internationally and in California. In many parts of the Golden State we are extracting groundwater at far greater rates than it is being replenished, threatening a future, sustainable water supply. In April, the California Water Foundation awarded Sustainable Conservation a $150,000 grant to partner with farmers, the Kings River Conservation District, UC Davis and others to explore the feasibility of applying seasonal flood water on existing cropland on a broad scale to recharge groundwater rather than relying on dedicated recharge areas. Using existing cropland has the potential to be a very cost-effective way to recharge groundwater since it is costly to rely on dedicated recharge basins which are only used every three to eight years when water flows are high enough and otherwise sit unused.

Sustainable Conservation partnered with innovative farmer Don Cameron to test the concept in 2011. Don farms wine grapes and other crops in an area that suffers from serious groundwater overdraft in Fresno County. His soils are sandy and infiltrate water well so in 2011, a very high water year, he took the excess flows from the Kings River and flooded his grape vine fields for weeks. Don was able to recharge a significant amount of water to the aquifer without suffering any yield losses.

Sustainable Conservation and its partners are now exploring how this technique can be expanded to more fields. We are looking at where groundwater recharge is needed, what soils are conducive for recharge and what crops can handle flood water in addition to what infrastructure or incentives farmers would need to take floodwater. This innovative approach could help address a serious problem for California.