California is trying to harness mega-floods to ease crippling droughts

California is trying to harness mega-floods to ease crippling droughts

HURON, California, Nov 15 (Reuters) – Land along Arroyo Pasajero Creek, midway between Sacramento and Los Angeles, is too dry for cropping in some years and dangerously flooded in others.

Amid wet and dry cycles – two phenomena exacerbated by climate change – a coalition of local farmers and the nearby city of Huron are trying to turn former hemp and tomato fields into massive receptacles that can hold water when ‘it seeps into the ground during wet periods. years.

This project and others like it across California’s Central Valley breadbasket aim to capture floodwaters that would otherwise rush out to sea or damage cities and crops.

Traditional water storage in the form of dams on rivers to create reservoirs harms the environment.

With parts of California suffering from a historic drought, water was so scarce in the Central Valley this year that Huron was only allocated a quarter of the water it was supposed to receive from the Bureau of Claim of the United States.

The city, one of the poorest in California, had to buy water on the open market, which increased residents’ bills, said engineering consultant Alfonso Manrique.

The new project, known as the Recharge System, turns unused fields into large ponds to hold water so it can seep into the porous rock and earth below, creating or restoring an aquifer rather than to rush to the sea. The city is building a new well being fed by the aquifer, Manrique said.

Capturing runoff water will also help protect the town of less than 7,000 people from catastrophic flooding.

The project near Huron is one of approximately 340 recharge systems that have been proposed by California water agencies – enough to store 2.2 million acre-feet by 2030 if all are constructed, the state Department of Water Resources said. That’s enough for 4.4 million homes for a year.

“I hope we can make water more affordable for our residents,” Huron Mayor Rey Leon said.

Outside of the United States, countries like India are also beginning to increase the use of recharge ponds to store water in natural or artificial aquifers. Water use and resilience are among the topics discussed by world leaders at the UN COP27 climate summit in Egypt this month.

While the idea of ​​storing water underground isn’t new, a recent California law regulating groundwater use has spurred a series of projects the state is helping fund.

In the small community of Okieville about 65 km east of Huron, the Tulare Irrigation District is building a new recharge pond on land purchased from a local farmer, said district general manager Aaron Fukuda.

A number of Okieville residents ran out of clean water during the state’s last major drought, which lasted from 2012 to 2016. The new pond, on about 20 acres of former farmland, will help guide groundwater to store it for residents as well as agriculture.

The project costs about $2 million, including about $1.8 million in state grants.

In addition to relatively small projects built by rural water districts and farmers, the massive Metropolitan Water District, a regional water wholesaler serving southern and parts of central California, is building a 1,500-meter recharge pond. acres in the high desert near Palmdale, in partnership with local water authorities.


California’s intricate networks of reservoirs, rivers, and aqueducts were considered engineering marvels when the state and federal government built them in the mid-20th century.

But the system relied on building dams and diverting rivers, and flooding canyons, damaging their ecosystems. The last major dam was built in 1980. Since then, the state’s population has nearly doubled to 40 million.

California’s agricultural economy, one of the largest in the world, relies heavily on irrigation to water its crops, further taxing the system.

Now new tanks are difficult to approve and expensive to build. Underground storage projects, according to Ann Hayden, water expert at the Environmental Defense Fund, “will be easier to fund, they’ll be easier to license, and they’ll get more public support.”


These artificial aquifers and underground water banks won’t solve all of California’s water problems, but they can make a significant dent, said Sarah Woolf, a water consultant whose family owns some of the used farmland. for the Huron project.

There’s room under the farmland that will be serviced by the Huron Project to store 1 million acre-feet of water, or about 326 billion gallons – enough to serve 2 million homes for a year.

“These are needed everywhere,” Woolf said.

Read more:

Climate-related water woes spark Colorado rush to conserve ‘liquid gold’

California to cover canal with solar panels as part of experiment to fight drought and climate change

INSIGHT-Drought forces North American ranchers to sell their future

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Donna Bryson and Lisa Shumaker

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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