August 24, 2022
The Fairmead Groundwater Resilience Project team stakeholders—Madera County Water & Natural Resources, CivicWell, Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, Fairmead Community and Friends, and Sustainable Conservation—were invited to speak with US Senator Alex Padilla’s staff members Margaret Arechiga, Sarah Swig, and Josh Esquivel this month to discuss future funding opportunities for Multibenefit Land Repurposing projects in Madera County.
The discussion also explored Fairmead community challenges related to ongoing drought, groundwater overdraft and climate change impacts, domestic wells, land repurposing opportunities under the Department of Conservation’s Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program and the California Resilience Challenge Climate Adaptation projects, and potential recharge sites. The day ended with a field visit to an existing recharge site under Triangle T Water District in Chowchilla, CA. The water district led a tour of the basin area, and discussions of how recharge basins can continue to support the implementation of groundwater sustainability in Madera County.
The conversation with project partners and Senator Padilla’s staff highlighted ongoing challenges Madera County communities face in light of increasing temperatures, continued megadrought, and the uncertainty around future policy changes to limit groundwater extraction.
Many of the challenges noted by Fairmead Community and Friends board members Caroline Williams, Barbara Nelson, Norma Bustillos, and Tomás Chaidez revolved around the increasing production of almond orchards in and around their community, well outages for private well owners, and the community water system. Discussions also covered the lack of affordable housing in the community, where homes cannot be sold if there is no working well to provide drinking water to potential tenants/homeowners.
Madera County staff mentioned that operations and maintenance (O&M) costs can be costly for communities experiencing major water system outages. It often takes up to 12 months to receive funds to proceed with needed O&M upgrades to the water systems.
The discussion surfaced opportunities for land repurposing funds to support recharge sites to help with flood and stormwater capture, urban green infrastructure, sustainable agricultural practices that are less water-intensive, and—most importantly—available land to support community projects such as parks, a community center, and affordable housing.
In the final hours of the visit, Jose Ochoa and Sarah Woolf from Triangle T Water District provided critical timing considerations for future recharge basins. The coming years are anticipated to bring flooding in the Valley region, and expanding recharge basins could support flood water capture and help avoid catastrophic flooding in both urban and rural communities.
This meeting presented a crucial opportunity to begin these discussions as the State of California undergoes two critical timelines for groundwater sustainability and meeting our climate change goals.