Surface and Groundwater Crucial for a Sustainable Water Future

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Watershed Science and Policy in the Sierra Foothills: Surface & Groundwater Connection, July 9

Last week, nearly 100 community members filled the Nevada County Board of Supervisors Chambers to hear Dr. Zeno Levy from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) speak about his groundwater study in the Sierra Foothills and respond to important questions about the future of groundwater in our community.

What does the USGS say about groundwater in the Yuba River watershed?

Overall, Dr. Levy’s 2015-2016 preliminary findings concluded most wells in our region have decent water quality, with only 4% of the sampled groundwater’s exceeding health-based thresholds. However, some key take home findings include:

  • Groundwater quality is vulnerable where it is recharged by irrigation
  • Most groundwater is “young” – not hundreds of years old
  • Overall, regional groundwater supply is declining due to increases in rural population
  • Groundwater is replenished from both local precipitation and surface waters, such as rivers, ditches and canals
  • Groundwater recharge is rapid and highly dependent on local geology, vegetation, and water use
  • Surface waters diverted for human use can be an important source of recharge during drought

Why does it matter for SYRCL and our community?

Dr. Zeno Levy, USGS Lead Project Scientist

Dr. Levy’s findings have important policy implications for our community and the Yuba and Bear River watersheds, especially in the face of climate change. His results show that we need to start thinking of groundwater and surface water in our community as one resource.

There are currently no local, state or federal laws that limit or track how much groundwater is used in the Yuba or Bear River watersheds. At a local level, Nevada County’s Department of Environmental Health is one of the only entities regulating well drilling in our watershed. California was the last state in the United States to regulate groundwater, and the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (2014) does not regulate most groundwater in our region. Other important local and state regulatory entities such as Nevada Irrigation District, Placer County Water Agency, other Nevada County departments, the regional Water Board, elected officials and more need to hear from you that this is a problem. Sign up here to remain engaged in this important discussion and other local water policy efforts. 

We deserve a sustainable water future for all, and that means drafting and implementing policies to safeguard Yuba and Bear water for future generations. We hope this study, conversation and future workshops will help start a very important discussion to change policy for the better.

Want to know more?

The USGS is still working to publish an article on this study, and they are also going to release a full public report, including data, methods, and conclusions. Sign up here to receive the study once it is available. In the meantime, check out this 2017 USGS report published on the Yuba and Bear watersheds and visit Nevada County’s website to learn more about local groundwater in our area.

What’s next?

Did you know that the Yuba and Bear watersheds have some of the oldest dams and hydropower operations in the state? The next quarterly Watershed Science and Policy in the Sierra Foothills workshop will look at this important and evolving issue October 2nd through a panel of experts discussing “The Future of Hydropower.”


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One Comment

  1. Karl Shutsy says:

    Hello Dr. Zeno.
    We have 5 acres that we have owned for 40 years in Rescue Ca, which 2/3 of our property we insist is left natural for wild animals and water shed collection. Our property backs up to hundreds of natural land behind us and our spring artesian when conditions are wet…
    But the natural foothills we came to 4 decades ago is vanishing, along with habitat, animals and the increase of human encroachment that has surrounded us, demanding more resources and leaving far too much human habitat in place of natural habitat. Not only do we have further depletion of resources, but we fear for the future of our water supply which would render our home valueless and the land we so loved all these years vulnerable… My question is… Is there anyone that still cares about the natural habitat and the resources it takes for all to live? Without water, we all perish…
    Thank you for your time. Regards, K. Shutsy

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