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Stories from the valley

Water – where does it come from?

Contributed by Jennifer Harrison

Water Management 101: and why it matters

Water makes a debut in one of my favorite movies. Maybe you’ve seen it? Enchanted is a hilarious look at what happens when a cartoon fairytale princess lands in New York City and becomes human. First, she thinks the shower is magic. “Where does the water come from?” she asks. “The pipes,” answers her new human friend. The princess isn’t satisfied. “Where do the pipes get the water?” she pushes. The New Yorker has no idea.

Regardless of zip code, (Sacramento Valley is no Manhattan), many of us aren’t quite clear how our pipes get water. In general, water can come from surface or groundwater. Water management is the complex process that uses water in reservoirs, rivers and the ground to deliver a reliable water supply, to you.   Curt Aikens, General Manager of the Yuba County Water Agency, talks about the basics of water management and its role in that magical shower of yours.

Do you think most people understand where their water comes from?

“Not enough of them do. In the past, I think many people only knew that when you flip a switch, you get electricity and for water, when you turn on the tap, you get water. During the recent four-year drought the public became more educated about the value of water. Many more people now realize water is a limited resource that needs to be responsibly managed for people and for the environment.”

In a nutshell, what is a water agency?

“A water agency is typically a standalone government entity authorized by the State of California to perform specific actions such as storing and releasing water for farmers, businesses and people and in our case for flood protection. It is governed by a board elected by the people it serves.”

What is water management?

“It is responsibly managing water supplies for both beneficial and environmental benefits. Yuba County Water Agency’s overall mission is to ensure a reliable water supply, which includes both surface water and groundwater supplies.  A reliable groundwater supply is critically important since 80% of Yuba County’s population is solely dependent on groundwater as their water source.”

Conjunctive, which means serving to connect, is a big part of water management, why?

“Yuba County Water Agency employs conjunctive use management, which is the combined use of groundwater and surface water to achieve a reliable water supply.  For example, in wet years, water supply comes from our reservoir, which reduces groundwater pumping and results in recharge of the groundwater aquifer.  Then during a drought year like 2015, when there’s not enough surface water to supply the farmers, there’s still a reliable groundwater source for farmers and people.   This strategy has restored an overdrafted aquifer to a sustainable groundwater aquifer.  Yuba County Water Agency has implemented a comprehensive groundwater management plan that employs extensive groundwater monitoring and modeling to protect our water supplies.”