Ag groups aiming to recharge California aquifers

Western Farm Press. 27 October 2015.  California groundwater recharge has the focused attention of two agricultural organizations as forecasters are calling for a wet winter.

The Almond Board of California (ABC) and Sustainable Conservation will explore ways to use almond orchards to recharge aquifers depleted by years of drought and irrigation pumping. Sustainable Conservation is a nonprofit organization that unites people to steward California’s resources in ways that make economic sense.

The partnership launches just as California is entering a much-anticipated El Niño year, which could bring an exceptionally wet winter. Groundwater recharge returns water to underground aquifers, collectively California’s largest water storage system, through managed flooding with seasonal floodwaters.

The goal is to use almond farmland to capture storm water that is both beneficial to aquifers and almond orchards.

Sustainable Conservation has been partnering with growers on field trials to accelerate groundwater recharge on agricultural lands in the San Joaquin Valley. For more than 20 years, the Almond Board has funded several research projects to understand water movement in the soil, and preserve and improve groundwater quality. 

“Leveraging almond acreage for groundwater recharge has the potential to benefit the entire Central Valley,” said Ashley Boren, executive director of Sustainable Conservation.

“Once a farmer utilizes his or her land to return water to the aquifer, it serves the greater community, not just that farmer,” Boren continued. “Maximizing the capture of excess flood flows during wet years replenishes groundwater supplies for use during dry years, while also reducing downstream flood risk.”

While the ongoing drought continues to impact everyone across California, the almond industry has focused decades of investment in research and improved production practices to protect California’s valuable natural resources.

“Groundwater has always been a vital resource for all Californians, and has played a critical role in maintaining California’s economic and environmental sustainability through the years,” said Richard Waycott, president and chief executive officer of the Almond Board. “The Almond Board will identify farmers who are already using or are interested in trying groundwater recharge to join the Sustainable Conservation program.”

Waycott says the groundwater recharge efforts are part of a large ABC-funded research by the University of California to understand the orchard health impact of applying excess water to almond trees.”