Surface water reservoirs provide water supply and flood management benefits by capturing water when available and storing it for use when needed. Surface reservoirs are commonly operated more for seasonal or short-term inter-annual needs. Groundwater aquifers generally provide longer-term storage and a source of water and seasonal storage in areas where surface water is limited. This paper reviews the benefits and challenges of water storage in California’s evolving water system, and provides some quantitative insights from an integrated analysis of this system.
Water storage should not be viewed as isolated projects. For today’s water management objectives and conditions, surface water and groundwater storage should be considered and analyzed as parts of larger systems or portfolios of actions that include a wide variety of water sources, types and locations of storage, conveyance alternatives, and managing all forms of water demands. Such an integrated, multi-benefit perspective and analysis is a fundamental departure from most ongoing policy discussions and project analyses.
The pilot study described in this paper focused on water storage and concludes that ability to utilize additional water storage in California varies greatly with its location, the availability of water conveyance capacity, and operation of the system to integrate surface, groundwater, and conveyance facilities.
At most, California’s large-scale water system could utilize up to 5-6 million acre-feet of additional surface and groundwater storage capacity, and probably no more, which would likely provide 50-150 taf/year of additional water delivery for each million acre foot of additional storage capacity alone. The water supply and environmental performance of additional storage capacity is greatest when surface and groundwater storage are operated together. The benefits, and likely cost-effectiveness, of coordinating surface and groundwater storage and conveyance operations greatly surpass the benefits of expanding storage capacity alone, greatly expanding water delivery increases to as much as 200 taf/maf of additional storage capacity.
Because we did not quantify and compare the economic value and costs of water supply and other benefits of expanding storage capacity, we cannot yet say if particular expansions would be economically justified. Similarly, because we did not comprehensively analyze the environmental impacts of expanding storage capacity or specific storage projects, we cannot yet say if particular expansions would be environmentally justified. Further, this study does not consider reoperation of existing facilities, water demand management, changes in prioritization of water uses or rights, or other policy or regulatory actions that might change the ability to supply water demands using existing water storage capabilities.