30 Jan 2009

Groundwater Banks Bleg

KD asks:
Our organization is examining potential conjunctive water management projects in the Sacramento basin and one of the issues that has been identified is the impact this will have on third-party groundwater users. I'm trying to look into how other groundwater banks (Kern, Arvin Edison, Semitropic, Yuba) have addressed this issue in an effort to develop a "lessons learned" type document and an appropriate monitoring and mitigation plan. Any ideas of who else might be working on similar issues; other groundwater banks that would serve as case studies (CA or elsewhere); or documents/articles that address this?
My first impression is that water banks ONLY work when the whole area is adjudicated. To my knowledge, the earliest example studied by academics (Elinor Ostrom) was West Basin Water District in LA.

Can anyone give good examples of groundwater banks that were well or badly run? Stories are good. Hyperlinks are better...

Bottom Line: It's not easy to govern something you can't see with a bunch of people whose actions you cannot observe, but people do manage to succeed.


  1. I was one of many lawyers who worked on the creation of the Kern Water Bank. (I handled a lot of the Endangered Species Act compliance.) The best person to talk to would be Bill Phillimore, the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Kern Water Bank Authority.

    The short answer is that you need a lot of competent geotech work, a cooperative political environment, a solid project manager and good lawyering to create the JPA or other legal entity and obtain the necessary permits.

    The Kern Fan Element has not been adjudicated. But because the water ponds pretty reliably, it doesn't really need to be.

    The Chino Basin, by contrast, is a very different model. That is an adjudicated basin with a watermaster, and with serious contamination problems from all the dairies that used to overlie the basin (which have mostly moved to Kern County -- see above). Gerry Thibeault, the Executive Officer of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, has a great presentation on its involvement in helping resolve some of the salt issues that were interfering with putting the basin to its maximum beneficial use.


  2. KD asked for information on other groundwater basins. Although I am not sure what KD meant in saying one issue is the impacts a conjunctive management project would have on third parties, maybe I can steer KD in the direction of the Westside Basin aquifer for some current experiences. The Westside Basin runs roughly from Golden Gate Park in SF to SFO airport down the peninsula. For many years the aquifer has been a source of groundwater for 3 cities (Daly City, San Bruno and South SF each get roughly half their water from SF’s Hetch Hetchy system and the other half from the aquifer), 3 private golf courses, and about 16 cemeteries (all the golf courses and cemeteries in Northern San Mateo County).

    Lake Merced in southwestern SF is the surface expression of the aquifer. In the early 90’s water levels in the lake had declined precipitously. Activists (including myself) sought an explanation and solution and quickly concluded that the pumping from the aquifer was a contributing factor in the lake’s decline. I would be kidding you if the hydrologists or even the laymen have to this day agreed how much of a factor. Nonetheless we sought a couple of solutions. One was to persuade the 3 golf courses to take recycled water from a plant to be built in Daly City. That happened. Secondly, we encouraged SF and the 3 cities taking water from the aquifer to enter into conjunctive use agreements under which the cities would get extra Hetch Hetchy water in normal and wet years and take more than normal water from the aquifer in dry years. Those agreements have been entered into and implemented. One or more may still be “pilot programs” with short durations.

    I’m sorry that there is very little on either the SFPUC or Daly City’s websites about the conjunctive use agreements. (But see http://sfwater.org/mto_main.cfm/MC_ID/13/MSC_ID/165/MTO_ID/285) I’m also sorry that I don’t understand exactly what you mean by impacts of conjunctive use programs on third parties. If, in the description above the cemeteries which continue to pump are the kind of third parties you mean, I don’t believe there are any direct impacts (although there is an indirect impact from all this in that they have been identified by the activists as logical next recipients of recycled water).

    The Westside Basin has not been adjudicated, although an AB 3030 (or is it 2020?) group was formed.

    You could probably learn a lot more by talking to some of the players at SFPUC, Daly City, etc. If you will email me at socialchr@aol.com I’ll put you in touch with them.


  3. Bill Blomquist2 Feb 2009, 23:32:00

    There were third-party issues in Chino Basin in southern California when the original court-appointed watermaster started storing water there. This was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Groundwater levels in the southern (downgradient) part of the basin rose too high, causing water quality problems (the upper soil layers are laden with nitrates from years of dairy production, and when the water table gets too high the water mingles with the nitrate-contaminated soils) and even some property damage (wet basements and damaged swimming pools). Some property owners sued to force better monitoring and management of the water storage program. These property owners were not pumpers and thus not parties to the Chino Basin judgment; otherwise they could have gone back to the court within the parameters of the judgment to challenge the actions of the watermaster.

    Unfortunately I don’t have any electronic links or resources to go with this story. It is described VERY briefly in my 1992 book, Dividing the Waters (pp. 286-289), but that book is out of print and as far as I know not available online anywhere.


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