Can California Save Today’s Rain for Future Droughts?

There’s another option, and that’s to put it in the ground, where it could help to replenish groundwater supplies.

Managed recharge, as it’s known, has been used for decades in many areas to actively replenish groundwater supplies. But the techniques have been gaining more attention lately as wells run dry amid the long-running drought. Local agencies have proposed more than 340 recharge projects in California, and the state estimates those could recharge an additional 500,000 acre-feet of water a year on average if all were built.

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One method being discussed by the state’s Department of Water Resources and others is Flood-MAR, or flood-managed aquifer recharge. During big flows in rivers, water managers could potentially divert some of that flow onto large parts of the landscape and inundate thousands of acres to recharge the aquifers below. The concept is to flood the land in winter and then farm in summer.

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Flood-MAR is promising, provided we can find people who are willing to inundate their land and can secure water rights. In addition, not every part of the landscape is prepared to take that water.

You could inundate 1,000 acres (404.6 hectares) on a ranch, and a lot of it might stay flooded for days or weeks. Depending on how quickly that water soaks in, some crops will be OK, but other crops could be harmed. There are also concerns about creating habitat that encourages pests or risks food safety.

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Another challenge is that most of the big river flows are in the northern part of the state, and many of the areas experiencing the worst groundwater deficits are in central and southern California. To get that excess water to the places that need it requires transport and distribution, which can be complex and expensive.

Flood-managed aquifer recharge

Flood-managed aquifer recharge methods could theoretically help restore some ground water, but it would take a lot of interest from landowners.

California Dept. of Water Resources

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