The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors have a major vote coming up which may decide the fate of a groundwater recharge project that would allow local groundwater to be exported out of the area.

Supervisors will likely be holding a public hearing and vote on April 11 on a groundwater export permit, which is necessary in order to move forward with the Demonstration Recharge Extraction and Aquifer Management (DREAM) Project.

They will set the hearing date at their March 21 meeting.

The $4 million project has been several years in the making, and faced some initial opposition from local cities and water districts.

“Now it’s either make history or be history,” said Brandon Nakagawa, San Joaquin County Public Works water resources manager.

East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) has offered up the money to North San Joaquin Water Conservation District to pay for the project as a result of a settlement in disputes of water rights. However, that offer only stands until June 30 of this year. If they don’t get the permit approved, the water district could lose out on $2.25 million to build the required infrastructure.

In what is considered an in lieu recharge project, local farms with a reasonable access to surface water, such as the Mokelumne River, will be asked to use surface water to irrigate crops during wet weather years, such as this one, and revert back to drawing up groundwater from their wells in dry years.

This is intended to allow the groundwater supply to possibly recover during wet years so more is available during future droughts.

Another unique and contentious piece of the recharge project is the ability for EBMUD to extract groundwater, which requires a permit from the county. EBMUD will be providing 1,000 acre feet of water, over the course of two irrigation seasons, and allow it to percolate through agricultural lands into the groundwater basin.

In exchange, they will have a one-time ability to extract up to a maximum of 500 acre-feet of water to be delivered elsewhere at EBMUD’s discretion. The extraction can only take place during the winter months when groundwater levels are typically higher and not during times of drought. There is also a clause protecting water from being extracted after a certain period of time.

“Every year that they wait to take 50 percent out, they lose 5 percent of the water,” said Kris Balaji, director of San Joaquin County Public Works. “If they do not take out water in 20 years, they do not get take a drop of the water.”

The idea is to bank more water than what is taken out. The 1,000 acre-feet is a drop in the bucket for EBMUD, Balaji said, and the agency may even decided to give that water back locally.

An existing extraction well will be used near Pixley Slough east of Highway 99 as a point of delivery between the groundwater basin and a pipeline which would connect to EBMUD’s nearby Mokelumne Aqueduct. That well and surrounding wells will monitor the amount of water drawn up and ensure that it doesn’t negatively impact other wells.

A benefit of the project is expected to be the net increase of 500 acre-feet of water in the groundwater basin, which will help prevent salt intrusion into the water supply, as well as subsidence — a process in which land ground compacts down and reduces water storage capacity. Subsidence has caused land to sink in areas of the southern San Joaquin Valley.

One of the concerns that Supervisor Chuck Winn had was about the export.

“When you say export water, everyone gets up in arms, ‘We cant afford to export what we currently need.’ Yes, it’s an export, but what would make up that 1,000 acre-feet would fly right by us and go to the Bay,” Winn said.

Supervisor Kathy Miller added that it’s not water that is normally available to the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District, but is water that EBMUD has the rights to.

During this season, more than 5,000 cubic feet of water per second has been released from the Camanche Reservoir down the Mokelumne River to make room for the massive snowpack and rain the area received in January and February.

Under California’s Sustainable Groundwater Act, local agencies have been tasked with coming up with groundwater management plans tailored to the resources and needs of their communities.

“If it works for the benefit of all parties, we can work on expanding it, because we would know how it would work. And any problems that develop, we can fix before we scale up, but there’s no guarantee that we’ll do that. All parties have to agree,” Winn said.

One part of the project, an already-planned rehabilitation of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District pump station, is currently underway. The station is located along the Mokelumne River east of Lodi, near Tretheway Road.

It will be used to deliver surface water for use in irrigating farmland and, if the DREAM project continues, to deliver water to the vineyards to be used for groundwater recharge. Regardless of whether or not the ground water export permit is approved, the $1.75 million EBMUD provided has already funded that project for the benefit of local irrigation.

As the DREAM Project was developed, there has been much public outreach to local stakeholders to have them share concerns and thoughts on the project, Balaji said.

They’ve heard from the farmers, irrigation districts and environmental groups and addressed those concerns, he said.

“One of the concerns that comes to my mind is what if these guys start extracting up to 500 acre feet of water and it causes an impact to surrounding wells,” Balaji said. “We addressed that concern by having monitoring wells around.”

If there is an impact the water district will be able to stop the extraction, he said.

“That’s a worst case basis is them taking the full amount. That’s the maximum. We mitigated for those impacts,” Miller said.

Members of the Advisory Water Commission, which is made up of local water agencies and stakeholders, have also voted unanimously to support the project, Balaji said. The City of Lodi, which was considering filing a suit against the project last year, is no longer in opposition.

“After some conversations with North San Joaquin Water Conservation District, we can let the demonstration project go forward without risk,” said Lodi City Manager Steve Schwabauer.

If the project moves forward, it could take a several years from the building of the infrastructure and recharge to when they might be able to measure any impacts of the project.

The public will be able to share their thoughts on the export permit at the April 11 Board of Supervisors meeting. For information about the most current Board of Supervisors Agenda and live streams and videos of meetings visit http://sanjoaquincountyca.

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at

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