Legislation to support groundwater recharge and fight flooding is making progress

Legislation from Merced Irrigation District and Merced’s local Assemblywoman Esmeralda Soria to support groundwater recharge from flooding streams is progressing through the state legislative process.

“This has massive potential to help water managers across the state, especially those of us in the San Joaquin Valley where overdrafted groundwater is such a significant challenge,” said MID Deputy General Manager of Water Supply and Rights Hicham Eltal.

MID recently partnered with the California Department of Water Resources to obtain a pioneering temporary permit through the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board), allowing for diversion of flood waters from Mariposa Creek in eastern Merced County as part of a proposed Flood-MAR (Managed Aquifer Recharge) effort. Flood-MAR has been promoted by DWR and others as a valuable tool to help replenish overused groundwater basins.

It became clear to MID and DWR during their effort that there were multiple challenges in obtaining the permit. Although a temporary permit was obtained from the State Water Board, it included a requirement to also obtain a Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). That permit was burdensome, impractical, and unfeasible to most potential diverters.

Flood-MAR diversions can only happen sporadically during flooding or at extremely high-flow events, typically for a short window of time, sometimes lasting only a few hours every four or five years. It was clear many landowners would not be willing to accept the conditions only to receive a sporadic and limited amount of water.

In support of the effort, Assemblywoman Soria authored Assembly Bill 830, which would help eliminate the need for the additional Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement from the CDFW. Under current law, no such permit is required when water is removed from a flooding stream for purposes of flood-fighting. However, the Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement is required for those who’ve received a temporary groundwater recharge permit from the State Water Resources Control Board. 

“Groundwater is an important resource in our region, both for drinking and for agricultural irrigation,” said Assemblywoman Soria. “Unfortunately, groundwater overdraft presents a significant problem in the San Joaquin Valley. This bill represents a common-sense step forward to both fighting floods and recharging groundwater.”

AB 830 passed out of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee with a 14-0 bipartisan vote. It will now go through further committee review before a full vote of the Assembly. 

“As we all work to comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, water operators need every tool available to them. This bill would help assure we have one more of those tools,” said MID’s Eltal.


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