Getting California Groundwater Projects Funded

Water agencies considering applying for federal WaterSMART grants for groundwater recharge and banking projects in the Fall of 2014 can be encouraged by the program’s recent awards supporting California groundwater projects. Funded projects included:

  • The Fresno Irrigation District receiving $1 million toward development of a new 60 acre groundwater recharge basin as part of the District’s Southwest Groundwater Banking Program.
  • The Irvine Ranch Water District receiving $1 million toward installing three groundwater extraction wells with piping and solar-powered flow meters to recover up to 2,700 acre-feet of water annually from stored groundwater.
  • The James Irrigation District in San Joaquin receiving $1 million to increase the capacity of an existing recharge basin to capture high flows from the Kings River that currently go unused.
  • The City of Yucaipa receiving $300,000 toward a project to construct and expand groundwater basins totaling 50 acres.

Recharge and banking differ only by whose water is being recharged. Recharge is generally any surface water supply stored as groundwater for later use by either the surface water owner or by an interested second party through water transfers and exchanges. The second party recharge projects are referred to as groundwater banking.

Ron Schnabel, PG, a Dudek hydrogeologist, shares the following advice for water agencies considering applying for grants for groundwater recharge and banking projects. Ron has participated on more than 20 groundwater banking and recharge projects in California during his 35 years’ experience in geology and hydrogeology.

Consider recycled water as a source. With imported State Water Project and Colorado River water supplies less available for recharge projects interest has turned to recycled water as a source. The Montebello Forebay Recharge Facility uses recycled water from the County Sanitation Districts of Southern California, and the Orange County Water District recharges groundwater from its treatment facility.

Any agency with access to treated wastewater should consider recharge as a means of obtaining an increased groundwater supply. Currently, wastewater from oil and gas production is being evaluated for both agricultural and recharge purposes.

Proven results are product of careful planning. Groundwater recharge involves proven science and established procedures. The number and locations of successful groundwater banking and recharge operations attest to its reliability. However, an economically successful project completed in a timely manner is the result of careful planning. Planning elements to consider include: early local groundwater user outreach, proper recharge site selection, a well thought-out project description, and selecting an experienced project team.

Look to agricultural land for potential sites. Due to increased wildlife concerns, agricultural land has replaced natural recharge sites as the main location for both artificial groundwater recharge and groundwater banking projects. While using agricultural land for groundwater recharge has the advantage of not requiring difficult to obtain 401 and 404 Permits, other concerns such as the remobilization of pesticides, herbicides, nitrate and salts will need to be evaluated.

Don’t be discouraged by permitting. If this is an agency’s first groundwater recharge project the permitting requirements can at first appear cumbersome and laborious. In reality, the permitting path has been well trod and the process is often straight forward with predictable obstacles that are easily addressed.


For more information about designing and planning groundwater recharge projects, contact Ron Schnabel at 626-204-9827 or at