In California, surface water from rainfall, snowmelt, and distant rivers rarely meets the state’s urban and agricultural water needs. Groundwater is an essential water source, providing 35% of the fresh water used in California. However, when groundwater is used more rapidly than it is naturally replenished, groundwater management becomes necessary. One of the tools used by groundwater managers is managed aquifer recharge (MAR).
Aquifers, the porous rocks and sediments that hold and transmit groundwater, are naturally replenished by surface water that seeps into the ground. MAR enhances the recharge rate by creating artificial streams and ponds where water trickles into the ground, or by using wells to directly inject water underground. MAR can also be used to improve groundwater quality and prevent some of the negative consequences of groundwater depletion, like ground sinking (subsidence) or the intrusion of salty groundwater from the oceans into coastal freshwater aquifers. Because of its arid climate and large population, California is home to some of the oldest and largest MAR projects in the United States. This case study highlights four of these projects, covering almost a century of MAR and water security in California.