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Author: Rebecca Quist

Innovative Helicopter-Based Technology is Mapping Groundwater in the State, including over South Fork Kings GSA

South Fork Kings GSA landowners may see low-flying helicopter towing equipment over next several weeks

November 10, 2021

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is using an innovative, helicopter-based technology to gather information about the state’s groundwater aquifer structure to support drought response and implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

Beginning November 19, 2021, DWR will conduct airborne electromagnetic (AEM) surveys of groundwater basins in the San Joaquin Valley in Kern, Tulare, and Kings counties, specifically in White Wolf, Kern County, Tulare Lake, Tule, and Kaweah. This includes areas over the South Fork Kings GSA. Landowners may see a low-flying helicopter towing a large hoop with scientific equipment approximately 100 feet above the ground surface. The helicopter crew may run test flights several days prior to the start of the surveys as well.

The helicopter, flown by experienced and licensed pilots, will make several passes over the survey areas.

“The data collected during these surveys will provide a better understanding of California’s groundwater systems, and in turn support more informed and sustainable groundwater management and drought preparedness and response approaches,” said Steven Springhorn, DWR’s SGMA Technical Assistance Manager.

Survey data creates an image of the subsurface down to a depth of about 1,000 feet below ground surface and provides information about large-scale aquifer structures and geology. This information supports the implementation of local groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs), which help local agencies like the South Fork Kings GSA sustainably manage groundwater during drought.

The AEM method is safe, and surveys have been conducted successfully in several locations throughout California. Surveys will be conducted during daylight hours only, and the helicopter will not fly over businesses, homes, other inhabitable structures, or confined animal feeding operations. The helicopter operator follows all established Federal Aviation Administration rules and regulations and their highest priority is public safety. Experienced pilots, who are specially trained for the low-level flying required for geophysical surveys, will operate the helicopter.

For more information about the AEM surveys, visit DWR’s AEM project website. For questions, please email AEM@water.ca.gov.

Conceptual diagram for how the AEM method works, CA DWR

For more information, watch DWR’s short 2-minute video on the AEM method, provided in both English and Spanish.

Survey conducted with local landowners sheds light on climate and drought perspectives

South Fork Kings GSA is conducting a series of surveys with landowners to better understand groundwater and land use. The first survey was designed to help the GSA understand landowners’ perspectives on how climate and drought impacts their groundwater supply.

Questions answered by respondents included: “On a scale of 0 (no threat) to 5 (greatly threatens), how much do you think climate change threatens your groundwater supply?” and “On a scale of 0 to 5, how would you rate the ability of your groundwater supply to recover from periods of drought?“.

The survey was conducted in June 2021, and results are now available to review on the survey webpage.

Tulare Lake Subbasin will submit grant application for recharge projects in the region

Preparations are being made to apply for round one of the CA Department of Water Resources (DWR) SGMA Implementation Grant, available to critically overdrafted subbasins. South Fork Kings GSA will work to submit a letter of support on the Tulare Lake Subbasin’s grant funding application for recharge projects that bring basin-wide benefits.

The Subbasin is currently considering which projects in the Groundwater Sustainability Plan, a joint document outlining sustainability in the Tulare Lake Subbasin, to submit for funding. Groundwater recharge projects under consideration are outside of the South Fork Kings GSA but bring a benefit by meeting subbasin-wide sustainability objectives. Groundwater recharge is a primary tactic for improving groundwater conditions by which extra surface water, rainfall and snowmelt, is captured to sink below the soil into the groundwater aquifer.

The SGMA Implementation Grant is funded by Proposition 68, with the first round providing $26 million for critically overdrafted subbasins. The Subbasin has not yet determined its funding request amount. The maximum award is $5 million, and minimum is $2 million.  

Another $77 million will be available in round 2 for medium-priority, high-priority, and critically overdrafted subbasins. The South Fork Kings GSA is in the Tulare Lake Subbasin, designated under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) to be critically overdrafted.

Groundwater Data Protection Policy adopted unanimously following committee and public review process

The Groundwater Data Protection Policy was adopted unanimously by the South Fork Kings GSA Board at their December 3, 2020 meeting. The draft was available for a 30-day public comment period beginning October 19 and ending November 18 and was revised under the direction of the Policy Committee after receiving one comment.

The policy outlines the South Fork Kings GSA’s duties and obligations in the process of acquiring data from landowners within its service area, with intent to keep any data collected private to the fullest extent allowed by the law. The South Fork Kings GSA will use publicly available information to learn about groundwater wells and pumping data, while working to engage in cooperative relationships with landowners to gather critical data for successful groundwater management.

Steve Jackson appointed to Policy Committee

The South Fork Kings GSA Board approved the appointment of Steve Jackson to the Policy Committee at its December 3rd meeting. Jackson is involved in ongoing SGMA efforts in the South Fork Kings GSA and serves on the Board of two Tulare Lake Subbasin GSAs, Tri-County Water Authority and Southwest Kings.

The Policy Committee is tasked with the development of policies that will guide the South Fork Kings GSA in its efforts to achieve groundwater sustainability in the area. A Groundwater Data Protection Policy adopted by the Board was developed under the guidance of the Policy Committee. The Committee will continue its work to draft policies in the coming months.

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