Collaborating in California for Groundwater Health

Collaborating in California for Groundwater Health

Private entities with remediation/clean-up sites (remediators) have a treasure trove of basin understanding but are rarely seen engaging in Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) conversations, and even more rarely at the grant-partnership table to maximize cleanup funding. While the goals of remediators and those of GSAs can often differ, ultimately both parties are aiming to improve the health and sustainability of groundwater basins—and collaborating with one another can make the success of this effort much more achievable.

Remediators’ focus, in most cases, tends to be swift site cleanup and closure with an eye toward reducing their clients’ long-term liabilities and impact on the communities that they operate within. GSAs in California, on the other hand, are working on developing and carrying out groundwater sustainability plans to ensure groundwater basins are operating within their sustainable yield. In developing these sustainability plans, though, an often-overlooked resource is the data that can come from these remediation sites. The remediators themselves have a wide variety of knowledge and resources that are invaluable for basin management including an understanding of water quality, groundwater levels, hydrogeologic properties, gradients, and confining layers, as well as sophisticated tools like groundwater flow and particle tracking models. Within a basin, remediation sites have the most dense and well-developed monitoring networks, which provide a window to detailed groundwater conditions both shallow and deep.

As groundwater sustainability plan (GSP) programs continue to develop under SGMA’s requirements, we expect to see remediation sites becoming more involved in the planning process, since remediators have localized resources that are beneficial for GSAs in understanding and managing basins. The well networks at groundwater remediation sites (both large and small) are monitored with a regular, established frequency, and combined with historical data, this is powerful information about water levels and water quality that GSAs can put to good use. Some remediation sites additionally employ pump and treat systems for contaminant cleanup. These systems are generally installed based on comprehensive aquifer testing that defines key hydrogeologic parameters needed to understand basin flow. Further, treated water from pump and treat sites is a valued asset in many basins, and can potentially be used as a component of larger basin management strategies.

Implementing a collaborative effort

In many basins, there is not a clear process for (or need for) coordination between remediators and GSAs. For remediators, many private companies are undertaking site cleanups as part of living their sustainability and stewardship philosophies or because of regulatory obligations to do so. By taking part in a coordinated basin effort with a GSA, remediators could apply complex site remediation strategies using multi-tiered treatment to achieve cleanup objectives in the shortest time frame possible.  Working with the GSA, remediators may, in the future, have access to potential grant funding streams we anticipate becoming available to pursue cleanup more aggressively and more comprehensively within a coordinated basin-wide plan, thus expediting cleanup. The challenge faced by remediators who are not already active in the day-in and day-out discussions of SGMA is how to take the first steps and find a meaningful way to engage. Some of the best tactics we’ve found for engagement include identifying the GSAs in the basin and staying abreast of GSP development, combined with active participation in stakeholder meetings and review of documents produced as part of SGMA compliance.

Taking part in SGMA and lending monitoring information to the broader basin picture provides a host of benefits to both remediators and GSAs. The GSA benefits from access to long-term, frequent potentiometric and water quality data and the detailed hydrogeologic understanding of the basin’s aquifers while the remediators benefit from better understanding of the regional context for their generally more localized projects, greater access to funding, and expedited timelines. Additionally, remediators that participate in GSAs have access to valuable information relating to the ways in which the GSP and subsequent management actions or changes in groundwater basin status could affect their ability to remediate sites, along with an awareness of the potential cost implications associated with actions like pumping fees or taxes. Ultimately, it’s a win-win for everyone if remediators and GSAs are willing to start engaging with and reaching out to the other party to develop a productive collaboration.

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Senior Technical Manager
Hydrogeology

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