The Kings River at Highway 43 near Cairo Avenue was dry as a bone on 2 July 2015. Photo: Gary Feinstein / The Sentinel

By Kurtis Alexander
18 January 2016

(TNS) – The clouds over the Sierra foothills were a welcome sight for Phil Desatoff.

As general manager of the Consolidated Irrigation District, which serves parts of Fresno, Tulare and Kings counties in the Central Valley, his job is to supply river water from the mountains to about 5,000 farmers, something he hasn’t done much of lately owing to the historic drought.

But as El Niño asserts itself, Desatoff has what at first glance seems like a head-scratching plan for the wet weather. Instead of steering Sierra flows through ditches and canals to crops like oranges, grapes and almonds, Desatoff plans to move water onto bare earth — in this case, a neatly graded 60-acre bowl of sand 15 miles east of Fresno.

Bucking the belief that dams are the only way to capture water, the irrigation district lets the precious liquid soak in at percolation sites so it stores in the ground. The agency introduced these “recharge ponds” to the region in the 1920s, and today is leading a popular charge. […]

“Recharge programs have generally been very successful,” said Abdul Khan, supervising engineer for the California Department of Water Resources, who monitors the health of the state’s aquifers. The problem, he said, is there just isn’t enough recharge to make up for groundwater depletion.

In some parts of the Central Valley, water tables have fallen 50 feet or more in the past five years, prompting wells to stop producing and even land to sink, dragging down roads and bridges. The collapsed aquifers in many cases can’t be resurrected to store water — or at least store as much as they did in the past.

“If we continue the way we are doing things right now without changing course, this depletion will be a catastrophe in the sense that we will have areas completely out of water and experience serious subsidence and serious water quality degradation,” Khan said. [more]

Can California Save its Drought-Drained Aquifers Before El Niño Destroys What's Left?


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