Californians have long been pumping water out of the ground for consumption, hygiene, and other domestic uses, as well as to irrigate farms and sports fields. In fact, groundwater accounts for roughly 30% of the state’s water deliveries during normal years. The relative importance of groundwater escalates, however, during times of drought because there often isn’t adequate surface water to address the needs of agriculture, urban populations, and the environment.
If the amount of groundwater pumped exceeds the amount of water recharging the groundwater basin over a period of time, like during this multi-year drought, then the basin that took decades to eons to form can become irreversibly damaged. Research suggests that multi-year droughts appear regularly in the state’s climate record, so we need to develop strategies for protecting and enhancing our basins so that groundwater remains a useful source of water for Californians for the long-term.
The California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply (CRWFS) took on the challenge of identifying strategies for advancing groundwater sustainability within the context of watershed-scale, integrated water management. A recent report, “Applying the Connectivity Approach” details their study of California’s Kings Basin region, revealing twelve opportunities for improved connectivity in groundwater planning and management to support agriculture and improve environmental and social outcomes. Managing a groundwater basin for sustained water supply and quality is a long-term and complex task that must recognize human systems (the interplay of all human needs) as a subset of larger ecosystems. The idea of promoting alignment between these systems is a concept that we call “connectivity.”
As the implementation of the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act progresses, and Water Bond expenditure priorities are being developed, Californians can look to this example of the Kings Basin to help determine and clarify regional opportunities and challenges, particularly in the areas of upper and lower watershed connectivity, surface and groundwater storage connectivity, alignment of governance structures and tools, and improved public and stakeholder engagement. Specific regions are encouraged to apply the connectivity principles to their local situation through an inquiry process to have an honest and holistic exploration of water issues.