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Farmers, SRT continue groundwater recharge effort after winter flooding

May 15, 2023 by Aaron

Kaweah Oaks Preserve proves vital in regional network of basins absorbing excess stormwater

(VISALIA, CA) - As severe rains clobbered California during December 2022 and the first quarter of 2023, some San Joaquin Valley farmers seized the chance to sink water for water-scarce times ahead.

Additionally, SRT land managers continue to collaborate with Valley water managers to increase groundwater recharge, including with Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District and other agricultural partners. This joint effort has brought much-needed water to SRT’s Kaweah Oaks Preserve whose water table has dipped precipitously in recent drought years. Since Lake Kaweah’s Terminus Dam went online in 1962, floods–as they once did for millennia–no longer soak the Kaweah Delta’s riparian zones that the native valley oak, Quercus lobata, and other thirsty species like the sycamore find so hospitable.

Using a method referred to as “managed aquifer recharge,” farmers intentionally flooded their fields following the sequence of atmospheric river storms, turning otherwise arable land into holding basins. Those ponds sunk into the earth over weeks and restored depleted aquifers that vanished over the past decades. This approach is expected to help sustain land productivity as climate change leads to future drought and storm cycles.

Governments are incentivizing farmers to engage in these practices. Tulare County, for instance, credits farmers for water returned to the aquifer by qualifying them for larger groundwater allocation in the dry season. Additional drought relief was authorized by President Biden as rains and snow pounded Central California.

With the La Nina offshore wind and current pattern replacing El Nino, it remains to be seen what the near future holds. But farmers, government, and nonprofits like Sequoia Riverlands Trust are stepping in to ensure that California’s heartland remains as productive and sustainable as possible.

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