A 52-acre earthen pool in south Fresno County could become a key part of replenishing depleted groundwater supplies in the drought-stricken region.
Unveiled Friday, the Laguna Irrigation District groundwater recharge project will direct flood water from the nearby Kings River and add approximately 2,600 acre-feet, or nearly 850 million gallons of water, a year to the aquifer.
Project organizers say that is enough water to irrigate about 1,300 acres of farmland.
Farmer Frank Zonneveld, chairman of the board for the Laguna Irrigation District in Riverdale, said the public-private project is vital because it provides another form of much needed water storage.
For years, farmers have complained about the state’s inability to capture and store water during wet years. That shortcoming became painfully evident during the four-year drought, which is now stretching into a fifth year.
Without adequate surface water, farmers were forced to pump heavily from their groundwater wells to keep their crops and trees alive. The result was a severely depleted aquifer in much of the Valley.
The $1.1 million project was hailed as a model for future recharge efforts. The Laguna project was a joint effort by the California Department of Water Resources, Laguna Irrigation District, Kings Basin Water Authority, Coca-Cola and the San Francisco-based Sustainable Conservation.
“While this year’s El Niño conditions have helped ease California’s historic drought, hotter, longer dry periods are becoming the norm for California,” said Ashley Boren, executive director of Sustainable Conservation.
Bruce Karas, vice president of environmental and sustainability at Coca-Cola, said that the world’s largest beverage company has made water issues a priority. It funds water projects globally and was impressed by the Laguna project.
“This is not the time for us to throw up our hands,” Karas said. “This is a time to look for projects that we can learn from and this is a great addition to that.”
Nestled between several nut orchards, the recharge basin sits empty for now. The basin has 8-foot-deep sides that are slightly sloped and head gates were constructed to handle the excess water that will be diverted from the Liberty canal.
Scott Sills, general manager of Laguna Irrigation District, said the parcel of farmland was chosen because its sandy soil allows water to percolate quickly through the soil.
Sills said he hopes the recharge basin won’t stay empty for long. The last time the area saw flood conditions was in 2011.
“We are ready,” Sills said.