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What is California doing to capture and store all the water from winter storms?

What is California doing to store winter storm runoff?
What is California doing to store winter storm runoff? 02:54

SACRAMENTO – We all know the saying about saving something for a rainy day, but in California it's about saving the water for a dry day.

As the rain and snow continue to hit our region, what is California doing to capture it all? The state is working to recharge the groundwater with what is hitting the surface. 

"You stop pumping groundwater and you allow the basin to fill up naturally," said Ryan Ojakian, manager of government relations for the Regional Water Authority

The water expert told CBS13 that you use more surface water when it is wet and more groundwater when it is dry. That is what the Sacramento Regional Water Bank has been doing, and it is seeing results. 

"If you look at Department of Water Resource data, you will see that our groundwater table as a result has been increasing on a regional basis," Ojakian said. "That is unique in the Central Valley, in the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley." 

Ojakian also said it is a cost-effective approach. It costs under $400 an acre-foot to do groundwater recharge that serves about three households for a year. 

Tim Godwin with the California Department of Water Resources said the state has issued over $380 million on recharge projects alone, preparing lands to receive water and encouraging these recharge projects. 

"This is natural green infrastructure that exists under our feet," Godwin said. "We just aren't utilizing it enough yet." 

Godwin said reservoir storage can complement recharging the groundwater, and not one alone will solve the storage problem. 

That is why the state is still working to complete its Sites Reservoir project that will divert water from the Sacramento River during high flow periods into storage. 

"You can capture the water when it's there, hold it in your storage impoundment, and then release it to then be metered into the groundwater basin at a slower rate," said Jerry Brown, executive director for Sites Project Authority. "That allows you to overall capture a greater amount of water for uses in those dry years." 

Between last year's record wet season and what we are seeing this year, Sites Reservoir would be sitting at about 80% full today had the project been completed. 

The 1.5 million acre-foot reservoir will be able to serve four million Californians a year and is expected to be complete by late 2032.
In nearby Roseville, another storage system is at work through aquifer storage, which is wells pumping water in and out of the groundwater basin. 

Ojakian said the water system we mostly use was built and envisioned about a century ago, and now it must evolve to the changing climate conditions in California. He said it was built to largely capture surface water, which is only about 10% of water globally. 

"It was built for a climate that existed at that time, but not for the climate we are currently experiencing or what we expect in the future," said Ojakian. "How are we better interacting with Mother Nature?" 

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