On the Water Front

Taking a big leap to solve California water problems: How uncommon partners are finding common ground on the water

Jump into Tuolomne River

This blog is co-authored by Joshua Viers, Professor and Program Director, Secure Water Future, University of California, Merced

There we were, 19 of us on the stony shore of the Tuolumne River, feeling a bit stranded like the crew of Gilligan’s Island.

Our “Finding Common Water” rafting excursion was planned around “no water Wednesday,” when river releases are held back for water conservation and infrastructure maintenance. The trip’s goal: Get off our desk chairs and onto rafts, out of the ordinary and into an extraordinary setting — a hot, highly regulated, wild and scenic river —  to push us out of our comfort zone and get to work on addressing real water problems.

Working with All-Outdoors whitewater expeditions, EDF and UC Merced teamed up to create the trip. Our premise was that paddling a raft together — and yanking each other back into the boats by our life vests — can build camaraderie and help find areas of agreement in ways that Zoom meetings just can’t.

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A conservation win and groundwater loss: Arizona ends 2022 session with mixed water record

The Verde River, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the Southwest, remains unprotected after another year of in action to address rural groundwater pumping in Arizona.

After months of negotiations, the Arizona Legislature passed a major water spending plan last month with funding for new conservation efforts to address deteriorating water supplies. However, for the fourth year in a row, state leaders failed to pass legislation to address unlimited groundwater pumping, missing an opportunity to enable a water secure future for 1.5 million rural residents and the state as a whole.

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Texas is drying up. We better protect our groundwater.

It is obvious to any Texan that we are in a horrific drought. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 80% of Texas has been facing drought conditions most of the year. Extreme or worse drought now covers 51% of the state.

The drought is hurting water supplies, particularly in Central Texas, which has received as little as 5 inches of rain since October in some areas, well below average. Coleman County had its driest January-to-June period on record going back to 1895.

Groundwater functions as a buffer to streams and rivers during periods of low rainfall, sustaining vital baseflow and spring flow.  But increased groundwater pumping coupled with a prolonged decrease in aquifer recharge from little rainfall causes the connection between rivers and groundwater to be lost and rivers and springs to dry up.

Although it will rain again, the reality is that Texas is becoming more arid. In the future, we will see less rain and more days of triple-digit temperatures.  As Texas weather changes, so must our methods of managing groundwater, which will become increasingly precious.

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This almond industry expert participated in the Leadership Institute to learn more about groundwater. Now he’s sharing that knowledge.

Donny Hicks

This blog is part of a series of profiles on Water Leadership Institute graduates. Sign up to participate in the Leadership Institute at www.edf.org/waterleadership or www.edf.org/agualiderazgo.

Donny Hicks knows almonds. He is a longtime almond farmer near Modesto, works as a field representative for the almond processor Hughson Nut and is a member of the task force for the Almond Board’s sustainability program. Already experiencing water cuts firsthand, Donny participated in the Leadership Institute, a program led by EDF and the Rural Conservation Assistance Corporation, last year to better understand water issues in his area. He was surprised to learn much more. Read on to learn what Donny gained from the institute and how he is adapting to water scarcity by working with another institute graduate, Joseph Gallegos, to test a new innovative irrigation system.

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California’s new Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program is already oversubscribed. Here are 3 features of successful applications.

Last month, the state of California reached an important milestone in its effort to proactively address water scarcity and the changing agricultural landscape: The Department of Conservation awarded over $40 million to regional organizations to strategically repurpose previously irrigated farmland in ways that create new public benefits while reducing groundwater use.

The highly competitive Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program (MLRP) received 12 applications requesting over $110 million  — more than twice the funding available during the program’s inaugural year. The four successful proposals, which received $10 million each, came from critically overdrafted groundwater subbasins in the San Joaquin and Salinas valleys. Here are three common features that gave the successful applications a competitive edge.

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As local movements for groundwater protection rise, will state leaders finally respond?

Across Arizona, the consequences of unlimited groundwater pumping are becoming untenable for many communities. In response, Arizona state Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, has introduced legislation, for the third year in a row, to enable rural communities to manage their groundwater through a new opt-in program called Rural Management Areas (RMAs).

Although the bill again did not receive a committee hearing, this year is very different from the past. Over the last several months, more residents and local stakeholders are becoming engaged and organized around water security and water self-determination, getting mobilized in local settings like town halls, community meetings, and even residents’ living rooms and porches. It has become clear that the people of rural Arizona no longer accept being ignored on water issues at the state level. Here are a few recent examples:

  • Residents in Cochise County, fed up with state inaction to address unfettered groundwater pumping, have submitted signatures for a ballot measure to ask voters to approve a new Active Management Area (AMA) in the Willcox Basin in a local election in November. They are now gathering signatures for a second AMA in the Douglas Basin.
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