On Saturday crews from the California Department of Water Resources will conduct what is considered the critical snow survey for gauging the amount of water that will flow into California reservoirs that been severely depleted during the state’s worst drought on record.
But while there’s believed to be enough snow in the Central Sierra to fill reservoirs like New Melones and Don Pedro – giving irrigation districts and even cities their full allotments of water this year – and the drought in California will severely reduced if not completely eliminated, there’s still one major area of concern for many California municipalities who could be facing a completely different type of water crisis in the coming years.
The depletion of groundwater reserves could become the new empty reservoir.
Every month the City of Lathrop reports its water use numbers to the State Water Resources Control Board to determine how much less water they used in the given month when compared to the baseline year established as a contrast to the worst years of the drought.
And every month the city is expected to curtail its by 25 percent when compared to the same month in 2013 – even though the actual regulation requiring the reduction was lifted in May of last year.
While there’s a chance that the unofficial request to promote conservation will be eased or lifted in response to the state’s water situation, according to Lathrop City Manager Steve Salvatore, the true issue is whether there will be enough groundwater in the future to meet the demands of growth as cities rely more heavily on water that is pumped from aquifers that are being overburdened and under filled.
Like many cities in the Central Valley, Lathrop relies almost exclusively on groundwater to serve its residents except for roughly 8,000 acre feet of surface water they’re allotted as part of an agreement with the South San Joaquin Irrigation District. But while one section of the community – that where the new development is taking place – is pulling water from a basin that can serve it, the wells on the east side of Interstate 5 are drawing from the critically overdrafted Stockton basin which raises concerns with planners who fear that growth within that sphere will tax an already limited resource.
And now that residents are using less water for things like irrigation in their yards and many farmers are using less water to irrigate their crops than before thanks to drought regulations and practices, the amount of water that goes back into those overdrafted basins has dwindled as well.
Salvatore said that Lathrop is currently keeping a close eye on the Stable Groundwater Management Act that is seeking to establish uniform guidelines for cities to follow in order to protect a resource that is vital to not only future growth economic development, but also serving the residents that are already a part of these communities.
And while the overdrafting of groundwater basins is alarming enough on its own, Lathrop is also facing the prospect that future surface water that could become available as the Surface Water Treatment Plant operated by SSJID expands could be reduced or even eliminated if a proposal to increase the unimpaired flows on the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers from February through June continues as planned.
According to SSJID, if the proposal submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board is adopted as currently drafted, future expansion of the facility – which will provide a large portion of the water necessary to service the thousands of homes being built in River Islands – could be in jeopardy and existing deliveries could also be affected.
The City of Lathrop has submitted a letter to the regional water board stating its opposition to the proposal. According to Salvatore, the city stands in opposition to proposals that will adversely affect their ability to buildout already approved projects that will greatly increase the city’s population over the course of the next decade.