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California water agencies collaborate on groundwater digital platform

  • California water agencies collaborate on groundwater digital platform
    Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in Gridley has groundwater wells that are pumping water to flood fields and supply water for waterfowl.

About the entity

California Department of Water Resources
Established in 1956 by the California State Legislature, DWR protects, conserves, develops, and manages much of California's water supply. This includes the State Water Project (SWP), the nation’s largest state-built water conveyance program.

As California continues to respond and adapt to ongoing extreme drought conditions, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) along with state, federal and non-governmental organization partners are advancing development of a tool for groundwater agencies to help with efforts to prevent dry wells and water supply shortages. The innovative Groundwater Accounting Platform is a robust state-supported data tool that will enable groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) across California to track water availability and use.

Groundwater, which is water naturally stored in the ground, serves as the State’s water savings account during dry years when less surface water is available. Nearly 85 percent of all Californians rely on groundwater for some portion of their water supply, particularly underserved communities in the Central Valley. The Groundwater Accounting Platform will help GSAs assess and quantify the impacts and benefits of management actions such as groundwater recharge projects, water trading programs and reducing demand on groundwater.

Under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), local agencies have new requirements to better understand, track and account for groundwater use across designated basins. Robust water tracking and accounting systems like this one will serve as the foundation in advancing coordinated and well-informed decision-making as local agencies work to bring groundwater basins into sustainable conditions over the next two decades. This digital tool will help GSAs manage groundwater in their communities for long-term sustainability and address drought impacts, supporting the successful implementation of SGMA.

“With SGMA came a great need for more monitoring, planning and actions to achieve groundwater sustainability, and California’s shift to a hotter, drier future has accelerated that need,” said Paul Gosselin, Deputy Director of DWR’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Office. “This groundwater accounting platform will provide local agencies with an easily accessible tool to track groundwater use and availability and make informed management decisions to help mitigate the impacts of drought in the near-term and transition to groundwater sustainability over the long-term.”

“This is truly a collaborative effort, bringing together water agencies to help address the impacts of drought -- such as water supply shortages and dry wells,” said Tara Moran, President and CEO of the California Water Data Consortium. “With our new climate reality, innovative tools and strong partnerships are needed to forge solutions for a new and unprecedented water management future.”

California is projected to lose 10 percent of its water supplies over the next 20 years as the West continues to experience increases in temperature in an arid climate

The digital platform can be used for many purposes, including refining water budgets (accounting of the rates of inflows, outflows and changes in water storage) under SGMA, outreach to landowners to create a common understanding of local groundwater availability, and development of water allocation and water trading programs. GSAs will be able to assess effects of pumping and recharge projects, improve understanding of water use and improve the accuracy of scenario planning and modelling efforts. GSAs will be able to use the platform as-is, or further develop the software to better suit their local needs. This makes the platform cost-effective because GSAs are not paying to build groundwater accounting software from scratch.

This collaborative effort brings together DWR, the State Water Resources Control Board, the California Water Data Consortium and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), with additional support from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation through a WaterSMART Applied Science grant. The Groundwater Accounting Platform was initially developed by EDF in partnership with Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District to manage groundwater in the central part of Kern County. DWR, the Consortium and EDF are now working to make the platform available to more local agencies, including collaborating with three new pilot project partners - Merced Irrigation-Urban GSA in Merced County, Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency in Santa Cruz County, and Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District northwest of the Greater Sacramento region.

“The Groundwater Accounting Platform is an important data tool that will help build capacity at the local level and support ongoing landowner communication to address drought and long-term groundwater management,” added Mike Myatt, Senior Director, Climate Resilient Water Systems at Environmental Defense Fund.

As outlined in the Newsom Administration’s recently published “California’s Water Supply Strategy: Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future,” California is projected to lose 10 percent of its water supplies over the next 20 years as the West continues to experience increases in temperature in an arid climate. Effectively managing groundwater, which contributes between 40-70 percent of our water supply, is a critical component of the state’s long-term drought response. Local agencies need innovative tools to better inform decision-making as water management shifts to a new climate reality of a future with less water.

DWR is providing funding and technical expertise to support the development of the Groundwater Accounting Platform. DWR and the Water Board are also working to ensure that the platform is compatible with the state portals that GSAs use to submit data, including DWR’s SGMA Portal and the Water Board’s Groundwater Extraction Annual Reporting System.

The Groundwater Accounting Platform complements other state efforts, including  alignment with the Open and Transparent Water Data Act (Assembly Bill 1755), the Newsom Administration’s Water Resilience Portfolio and Water Supply Strategy, the 2025 update of California’s Groundwater (Bulletin 118), and the DWR Water Accounting team’s Water Budget Handbook.

A public workshop is planned for spring 2023 to provide more information on this innovative platform, including how GSAs can access and use this tool.

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