San Joaquin Valley

San Joaquin Valley, CA

PROJECT PARTNER(S): Sustainable Conservation
PROJECT TYPE: Irrigation Infrastructure Upgrades and Water Management Agreements


The San Joaquin Basin in California faces significant water management challenges including groundwater overdraft and nitrate contamination of groundwater. Groundwater pumping is occurring at an unsustainable rate, with annual pumping exceeding natural recharge.

A proposed portfolio of projects coordinated by our partner NGO, Sustainable Conservation, is being developed collaboratively with local farmers to capture surface waters during wet years and replenish groundwater reserves for use during dry years. This set of projects serves as a cutting edge solution, poised to demonstrate that homegrown, local solutions can solve regional water challenges. The projects directly benefit participating farmers and adjacent landowners because a significant proportion of the recharged water will replenish groundwater directly below project sites, allowing farmers to draw upon replenished groundwater when surface water is scarce. Rural and underserved community members who depend on groundwater also stand to benefit due to improved water quality and reliability of drinking water.

The goal of this portfolio of projects is to involve as many different crops, farmers, and water management methods as possible so results will inform a broad range of growers about the potential to use their lands to recharge groundwater throughout the San Joaquin Valley region.  Demonstration and validation of this approach will be used to promote wide scale adoption of groundwater recharge projects by growers and water management agencies across the region and in other suitable areas of California.

Projects will extend across a large area from near Modesto to areas south of Bakersfield. Sustainable Conservation is coordinating the effort, with irrigation districts providing the water and encouraging growers’ participation, and university partners leading and designing project monitoring to assess project effectiveness, document outcomes, and analyze yield impacts on various crop types (with almonds and grapes as a focus). Sustainable Conservation and the Almond Board of California are partnering to explore the potential of California’s 1 million acres of almond orchards for groundwater recharge.

The project goal is focused on implementing a significant portfolio of projects (more than 10) where project partners can demonstrate, monitor, and promote on-farm water recharge to benefit farmers and water management agencies in the productive San Joaquin Valley of California. The pilot is currently ready to launch, and new funding support is required to demonstrate and test on-farm groundwater recharge on more sites in 2017 (and beyond).

*This resource has been reviewed and found to meet the BEF Flow Program Certification Criteria for Evaluating Proposals to Secure Environmental Flows by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.