Using farms to bank drought water

Helen Dahlke, UC Davis

Watershed Sciences researchers Helen Dahlke (photo), Graham Fogg, Thomas Harter, Sam Sandoval Solis are exploring a new drought managment strategy that would use cropland as groundwater infiltration basins, to help California get by during droughts.

The scientists have identified 3.6 million farm acres suitable for groundwater recharge in wet years. During storms and flood-control releases, excess river water could be routed through aqueducts and canals onto dormant agricultural fields, where the surplus would percolate and increase groundwater. 

Dahlke and her team will test flooding on almonds in the Central Valley this winter, looking at plant physiology, infiltration rates, water quality, and costs. (See UC Davis news release, Sept. 9, 2015.)

If successful, several hundred or thousand acre-feet of water could be recharged annually into California's aquifers for agricultural and urban use during dry years — making more river water available for stressed fish and wildlife.

The 3-year project, funded by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, comes during a severe drought as drinking water and irrigation wells are drying up at an unprecedented pace.