Growing Returns

Rural Arizonans need these tools to manage declining groundwater resources, fast

In some parts of rural Arizona, groundwater is the primary or only source of water for households, farmers and entire communities. But groundwater pumping has caused wells, rivers and springs to go dry.

A study by Arizona’s Department of Water Resources found that areas of Mohave County, which includes Kingman, may have only 60 years of groundwater remaining under certain pumping scenarios. Last month, the U.S. Geological Survey presented a new study showing areas of Mohave County could have over 100 years of groundwater supply.

The USGS study assumed that farmers will switch to less water-intensive crops and that new acreage won’t be converted to farmland. The difference in projections between these studies demonstrates that how we collectively manage and use groundwater matters, leading Mohave County Supervisor Gary Watson to conclude, “time is of the essence.” Read More »

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A Craigslist for water trading? Learn how this new water management platform works

Eric Averett, General Manager, Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District

Eric Averett is general manager of the Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District in Kern County, California, which is one of 21 regions required by the state to balance groundwater demand and supply within 20 years under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Rosedale is home to approximately 27,500 acres of irrigated cropland and 7,500 acres of urban development. Groundwater demand there exceeds supply by approximately 5,000 acre-feet per year.

To inform landowners about their water budgets, Rosedale partnered with EDF, Sitka Technology Group, WestWater Research and local landowners to co-develop a new online, open-source water accounting and trading platform.

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How groundwater managers can avoid the courts as they divvy up water

One of the biggest challenges to implementing California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act hovers around this two-part question:

Who gets to pump groundwater and how much do they get to pump? Or, put another way, who must cut their groundwater use and by how much? Read More »

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Measuring irrigated water use has been a challenge for decades. This new tool will change that.

Over my nearly 30 years of working on water issues in the West, I have repeatedly thought there has got to be a better way to measure how much water is used to grow the food we eat. This data is surprisingly complex, and up until now, it has been expensive to calculate.

That’s why it’s difficult to contain my excitement as this “better way” comes to fruition in the form of a new web platform called OpenET that EDF is developing with NASA, Google, the Desert Research Institute, the U.S. Geological Survey and dozens of other partners.

Using publicly available data and satellite imagery, OpenET will for the first time make data on how much water crops use widely accessible at no to low cost to farmers and water managers large and small in 17 western states. OpenET will go live next year. Read More »

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Don’t let funding dry up for safe and affordable drinking water

Two important water reports were released recently that address the lack of safe and affordable drinking water in some California communities, despite our state’s position as an environmental leader. Read More »

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Location, location, location: New tool shows where groundwater recharge will maximize benefits

Recharging groundwater with rain and snowmelt is one strategy water managers are embracing to help balance groundwater supply and demand and comply with the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

Depending on the location, recharge can also deliver other valuable benefits, such as additional habitat for wildlife and a more resilient water supply for people. Read More »

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3 strategies to create a resilient water supply for Texas

The world is a different place now than it was when I grew up in Houston in the 1980s. I have vivid memories of steamy summer thunderstorms consistently interrupting my afternoons at the neighborhood pool. My sister and I would head home and swap our swimsuits for raincoats, then stomp around muddy ditches and dig up crawdads while thick warm raindrops drenched our faces.

My sons will have very different memories growing up in Texas. Their memories will be marked by extremes — football games either played in dust bowls or canceled because the field had become a lake.

As my children grow up in this era defined by persistent drought, periodic floods, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m concerned about their future as nature will continue to test the state’s best-laid plans.

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Arizona leaders must finish what was started on groundwater 40 years ago

Forty years ago, then Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt signed Arizona’s landmark Groundwater Management Act, which created a system to manage groundwater in five regions of the state where overpumping was most severe and aquifer levels were declining rapidly.

“I called the leaders of the water establishment together on the day after Thanksgiving in 1979,” Babbitt recalled in an oral history. “I personally sat them down and met with them once or twice a week for nine months and just kind of shut the door and said, ‘We’re going to reform our way out of this problem, and we’re going to draft a meaningful water management system for the state of Arizona.’” Read More »

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Why I’m visiting the California Capitol to testify on groundwater

Update: This bill passed out of the Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife in a 14-0 vote. It is expected to go before the Appropriations Committee in early June.

California lawmakers returned to work last week after taking measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the state Capitol, acknowledging they must continue to tackle many other challenges still facing the state. Water is one of those perennial challenges.

That’s why I will be testifying Thursday on a bill, AB 2642, that will help farmers transition to more sustainable groundwater use.

(Photo Credit: Andre M.)

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A low snowpack makes it imperative to better manage groundwater supplies. Here’s how.

Despite the much-needed April showers we saw this week, our normally wet January and February were bone dry in most of California. So it came as little surprise when the annual April 1 snowpack measurement in the Sierras came in low, at about 53% of average statewide. It’s another important reminder of how California’s weather, and consequently our water supplies, are swinging to greater extremes.

The low snowpack and extreme weather makes it more imperative than ever to carefully manage another part of our water system: underground water supplies.

We need to measure groundwater as actively as we measure snowpack and double down on efforts to successfully implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Here are three ways to help ensure more sustainable groundwater supplies for generations to come. Read More »

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