BY SEAN BIGLEY AND DAN YORK
SPECIAL TO THE SACRAMENTO BEE
California’s rivers are once again surging with winter runoff, a beautiful sight after several consecutive dry years. Sacramento-area water providers are working together to capture as much of this excess water as possible for use during drier days. Yet, we could be doing so much more with additional support from state and federal decision-makers. The additional storage that the state seeks is right in front of our eyes, or more specifically, right under our feet.
The City of Roseville, for example, is capturing surplus flows from Folsom Reservoir through our contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and storing this water in the groundwater aquifer using specialized Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) wells. Just a year ago, Roseville stored enough water to fill 160 Olympic-sized pools. Later in 2022, we delivered that water to customers, leaving water in Folsom Reservoir to benefit our environment.
Other water providers are storing water underground through a strategic yet more indirect route that maximizes how our natural infrastructure already works. For example, the Sacramento Suburban Water District operates the region’s largest network of groundwater wells—70 of them—and does not have its own right to access river water. This winter, the district is temporarily delivering treated river water to customers via our partnership with the City of Sacramento, which has surface water rights. The City of Sacramento also shut down some of its groundwater wells and is delivering more river water to customers. These actions allow our groundwater aquifer to recharge, resulting in banked water for future use.
All of this is part of what we call the Sacramento Regional Water Bank, our system of underground water reserves that we pump and refill—over and over—to serve capital-area water users. The aquifers underlying the Sacramento region have enough capacity to store twice the volume of water as Folsom Reservoir.
Thanks to steady investment over several decades, we can reliably withdraw and refill 60,000 acre-feet of groundwater every year, irrespective of extremes in conditions—enough to meet the drinking water needs of 180,000 families for a year. And, that is just the beginning. Local water providers are working to expand water banking as we face the ever-familiar impacts of climate change. With climate change, rain and snowfall will fall earlier in the winter in more explosive bursts. This creates a Catch 22 for our water system—the need to release water from Folsom Reservoir to protect our community from flood rather than storing water for the dry days ahead.
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Learn more about the Sacramento Regional Water Bank
Learn more about the Water Bank public engagement process, including information about the next Stakeholder Forum
Sean Bigley is Assistant Environmental Utilities Director for the City of Roseville. Dan York is General Manager of the Sacramento Suburban Water District.