Agriculture

Berkeley lab joins groundwater recharge study

Captured storm runoff is used to irrigate an almond orchard Jan. 19, 2016, at the Paradise Road farm of Nick Blom, a board member for the Modesto Irrigation District.
Captured storm runoff is used to irrigate an almond orchard Jan. 19, 2016, at the Paradise Road farm of Nick Blom, a board member for the Modesto Irrigation District. Modesto Bee file

One of the nation’s top centers for science will look at how stormwater seeps into almond orchards in the Modesto area and beyond.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announced Monday that it has joined a groundwater recharge study that already involves the Almond Board of California and other partners.

The lab, managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy, works in several scientific disciplines. The Modesto-based board is paying it $105,840 to use chemical, geophysical and other tools for tracking water through aquifers.

The research involves directing stormwater to orchards where the soil might lend itself to steady percolation, a promising way of dealing with tight water supplies.

One very rainy day in January, the media gathered to see it demonstrated at the Paradise Road farm of Nick Blom, a board member for the Modesto Irrigation District. Runoff was captured from city streets a few miles away and conveyed in an MID canal to the orchard.

So our expertise matches up very well with the need to evaluate which test sites have the most potential.

Peter Nico, geochemistry researcher

The study team is looking at how much water is captured, whether it might carry pollutants, and whether the flooding damages the almond trees. The Berkeley lab will add methods that include geophysical imaging, which provides a picture of underground conditions without the need to drill a well.

“So our expertise matches up very well with the need to evaluate which test sites have the most potential,” said Peter Nico, head of the lab’s geochemistry department, in a news release.

The project already involved researchers at UC Davis, a San Francisco group called Sustainable Conservation, and the research firm Land IQ.

Initial research suggests that recharge conditions are “moderately good or better” on about 675,000 of the state’s 900,000 acres of almonds, said Gabriele Ludwig, director of sustainability and environmental affairs at the board.

Sustainable Conservation, which also has a Modesto office, is involved in another recharge project unveiled Friday in Fresno County. The Laguna Irrigation District will direct floodwater from the nearby Kings River into a 52-acre earthen pool. It is expected to provide enough to irrigate about 1,300 acres of farmland.

“While this year’s El Niño conditions have helped ease California’s historic drought, hotter, longer dry periods are becoming the norm for California,” said Ashley Boren, executive director of Sustainable Conservation.

The $1.1 million project also involves the California Department of Water Resources, the Kings Basin Water Authority and Coca-Cola. The beverage company has made water issues a priority.

The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.

John Holland: 209-578-2385

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