California almond orchard

About one-third of California's almond acreage sits on land that could provide good groundwater recharge. The idea is to flood irrigate orchards at certain times of the year with surface water to replenish aquifers.

Almond Board taps national lab to help study aquifers

Berkeley Lab receives $105,000 from Almond Board to study groundwater recharge University of California aids in almond board studies Sustainable Conservation and Land IQ participating in studies  

A partnership between the Almond Board of California and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will aid in ongoing efforts to better understand groundwater recharge with the goal of achieving sustainability within the aquifers.

To date, the Almond Board has provided more than $105,000 to the Berkeley Lab to study aquifers under almond orchard recharge sites.

Gabriele Ludwig, director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs at the Almond Board, says the efforts are needed as California transitions into full implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).

“The potential for using almond orchards for groundwater recharge is an increasingly important research area for us to understand as California’s precipitation begins to shift from winter snow to rain, which is more difficult to time and store,” said Ludwig.

The national laboratory project is led by Peter Nico, head of Berkeley Lab’s Geochemistry Department.

“We have a lot of expertise in understanding the subsurface, using various geophysical imaging techniques, measuring chemical changes and using different types of hydrologic and reactive transport models to simulate what’s happening in the soil,” Nico said.

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

Berkeley Lab scientists have expertise in using geophysical imaging, which allows them to “see” underground without drilling a well.

The Berkeley Laboratory is not the only entity studying groundwater for the Almond Board. The University of California, Sustainable Conservation, and the private research firm Land IQ in Sacramento are also looking at how different soil types are conducive to groundwater recharge and how the over-application, at times, of surface water in almond orchards could impact the trees.

More than one million acres of almonds stretch roughly 500 miles from Red Bluff to the south end of the San Joaquin Valley. About two-thirds of that land is considered moderately good or better in its ability to percolate water into the underlying aquifers, according to Ludwig.

According to the Almond Board, the thought is to use surface irrigation water during times of availability to flood almond orchards with the goal of recharging aquifers, which could not only help growers during times of drought, but be helpful to those with limited access to surface irrigation.

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