One key way soggy California could save water for the next dry spell

The water spread into every corner of the fields, beckoning wading ibises and egrets as it bathed long rows of sprouting grapevines.

Several inches had covered the vineyard ground for a couple of months. But rather than draining it, Don Cameron was pouring more on.

“This is not about irrigation,” the sprawling farm’s manager kept telling his quizzical workers. “It’s about recharge. … I want all the water you can get into the grape fields now.”

After a drought-busting winter, reservoirs up and down California are dumping water to make room for spring snowmelt.

There is so much water in the state’s vast plumbing system that for weeks, the big government water projects have reduced exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. San Luis Reservoir, where the projects park water on its way south, is full.

Yet there is more room than ever in one of the state’s most capacious storage spaces: the San Joaquin Valley aquifer.

Parts of it have been overpumped for a century. Groundwater levels fell even farther during the past five years of drought as growers in California’s heartland drilled new and deeper wells to make up for huge cuts in irrigation deliveries.

“We have a great reservoir under our feet. Why not use it?,” Cameron asked.

learn more

Chris Alexakiswater