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Maximizing on-farm groundwater recharge with surface reservoir releases: a planning approach and case study in California, USA


A hydro-economic approach for planning on-farm managed aquifer recharge is developed and demonstrated for two contiguous sub-basins in California’s Central Valley, USA. The amount and timing of water potentially available for recharge is based on a reoperation study for a nearby surface-water reservoir. Privately owned cropland is intermittently used for recharge with payments to landowners that compensate for perceived risks to crop health and productivity. Using all cropland in the study area would have recharged approximately 4.8 km3 (3,900 thousand acre-feet) over the 20-year analysis period. Limits to recharge effectiveness are expected from (1) temporal variability in recharge water availability, (2) variations in infiltration rate and few high-infiltration recharge sites in the study area, and (3) recharged water escaping from the study area groundwater system to surface water and adjacent sub-basins. Depending on crop tolerance to ponding depth, these limitations might be reduced by (1) raising berm heights on higher-infiltration-rate croplands and (2) creating dedicated recharge facilities over high-infiltration-rate sites.

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