The mission to capture storms’ water before it flows away
Mar 4, 2017 at 5:00pm
Kurtis Alexander, SF Gate
WATSONVILLE — With winter rains filling California rivers and reservoirs in a dramatic display of drought-ending bluster, the rush is on to capture the overflow before the bounty is squandered, washed forever to sea.
Numerous water agencies from the Central Valley to the Central Coast are busy stashing surplus water underground, a practice known as groundwater recharge in which excess from lakes and creeks is steered onto barren fields, where it soaks into the aquifer below.
But as well-meaning as these efforts are, they often lack the land to bank as much water as they could, experts say. Committing property to the low-payoff endeavor doesn’t usually pencil out. And even when the investment is made, there’s typically no assurance that those putting water in the ground will benefit — instead of a neighbor with a well.
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Here in the rural Pajaro Valley, however, officials may have found a way to make the practice more enticing: Farmers plying this fertile stretch of strawberries and lettuce can make money offering up their private land.
Just as households with solar panels get credit for selling power back to the electric grid, landowners can offset their water bills by pushing water underground.
The pilot program, being rolled out by the local water agency in partnership with the region’s conservation district and UC Santa Cruz, has just one participant so far — a berry company that’s reducing its water payments by channeling hillside runoff into the ground. But others are signing up.