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Underground aquifer storage growing as more river water is pumped into wells

The small town of Woodland is utilizing Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells to save water for those sunny days.

WOODLAND, Calif. — After historic rains hit California over a three week period, many have been wondering if enough is being done to store the excess water.

The city of Woodland has been prepared for water storage for over a decade. What started off as a treatment facility to clean water soon became a treatment and underground storage facility.

Tim Busch, a utilities engineer with the city of Woodland, says they received rights to divert water from the Sacramento River in 2011 to provide water to Woodland-Davis residents. 

That treated water was put through their first Aquifer Storage and Recovery well, or ASR well. The project broke ground in 2014 and since then, three ASR wells now help hold hundreds of millions of gallons of water.

"So we've been storing water at about 4.5 million gallons every day. As of today, we've started 200 million gallons this winter so far," said Busch.

The goal this year is to supply 800 million gallons of water. Busch says that's would cover about 30% of the water used in the summer months.

With more mountain snow, snowmelt could last as late as May, meaning higher river flows and more storage capabilities.

"We do reduce our impact on the river by storing our water in winter months when there's plenty available. It reduces our summer demand from the river," said Busch.

Underground storage is also top of mind for the California Department of Water Resources.

"There is hyper focus on understanding where there's the ability to recharge, how to manage the groundwater in these different basins," said Steven Springhorn, an engineering geologist with the Department of Water Resources.

The DWR says there are over 500 underground water basins in the state. The state's underground water system known as an aquifer spans about 400 miles of the Central Valley. 

"We're using an aquifer layer that's about 500 feet below ground. It is a 50-foot thick or tall layer of sand and rocks, which has a clay layer both above and below that, which basically confines the water vertically, the water cannot escape vertically, it can only expand horizontally," said Busch.

Woodland currently has three ASR wells at about $5 million a piece. Water officials say it's a small price to pay for the future of our water.

"Where the right geology exists, and then the right supply, right amount of water supply exists. Yeah, it's definitely doable in terms of return on investment," said Busch.

As climate swings become more extreme and unpredictable, planning is essential.

"We're going to be expecting more intense droughts, more intense floods, and a quicker transition from one to the next. So this managed groundwater recharge is really important," said Springhorn.

The Central Valley is known for major agriculture and crop production, but is one of the areas hit hard by drought. The lack of water has caused farmers to go without planting crops entirely. 

DWR and water engineers hope more ASR wells could provide access to a network of aquifers that may link water from the North to the Central Valley.

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