Big grant awarded to help Merced Co communities maintain groundwater

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A trio of local sustainability agencies were created to address the Merced County groundwater basin. (KFSN)

Several east Merced county communities received a $2.4 million grant from the California Department of Water Resources for local groundwater sustainability.

"This funding will allow the county, working with our partners and other local water management agencies, to comply with the sustainable groundwater act in developing a plan that will direct how we manage groundwater over the next 20 years," Merced County Water Resources Coordinator Lacey Kiriakou said.

The sustainable groundwater management act was created in 2014. The law requires local government to figure out a way to reach sustainability. Otherwise, the state takes over. With so many people using the water, the basin is considered critically over-drafted. Local groundwater sustainability agencies need to determine how to best allocate the water by 2020.

"Really, the challenge is trying to figure out what's the best way to allocate the water resources that we all share, and how we can integrate the use of surface water, and how we can also begin integrating the use and reuse of recycled water, to help augment the groundwater use that we are all so dependent on," Merced Assistant City Manager Stephanie Dietz said.

Dietz said the city is already being more sustainable by recently installing water meters. She said they've already help save about 5 million gallons of water. Dietz said the biggest hurdle will be coming up with a plan that meets the needs of both farmers and growing cities.

"We have to balance the needs of the agriculture industry along with the needs of this campus and this community growing, and we have to find a balance here," Dietz said.

Merced Irrigation District's Public Relations Manager, Mike Jensen, said the grant will help offset some of the costs that communities would have had to pay to develop a plan. He says finding a solution is crucial, to not only save water but save infrastructure.

"One of the challenges that can happen with groundwater overdraft is an issue called subsidence, where the ground begins to compress. Once that happens, it can cause a problem for infrastructure," Jensen said.

The grant will also pay for other projects, including a pilot project in Planada aimed at recharging local groundwater for the community.
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