Using Resources at Hand
Located just behind the Burger King and the ARCO AM/PM near Highway 65 at West Hermosa Street, in recent years the Mariposa Catch Basin sat empty most of the time. It filled with water only when runoff was so great it threatened to overwhelm the city’s carrying capacity. In the lingering years of drought, that didn’t happen often.
“The city, when it rains, they’ve got to put their stormwater someplace,” said Michael Hagman, executive director of the Lindmore Irrigation District. “That basin would get maybe quarter or half full.”
Now – following completion of a joint project of the state’s Department of Water Resources, the Lindmore Irrigation District and the East Kaweah Groundwater Sustainability Agency, as well as Lindsay City Hall – the 8-acre basin will be full as long as water supplies remain robust enough to keep it topped off.
“The project is to take a very clean water supply brought down from the San Joaquin River and taken from the Friant-Kern Canal,” Hagman said. “We drop that fresh water into that basin.”
Recharging the Groundwater
The water pumped into the Mariposa is allowed to sit, soaking into the ground and recharging the dwindling aquifer. While a ribbon-cutting announcing the project’s completion was held in August, the project has been running since late winter.
“We’ve been running at full tilt since the end of March,” Hagman said. “We’ve dropped about 600 (acre-)feet in there already. We’ll probably drop 1,100 or 1,200 (this water year).”
The water comes in via a pipeline that acts as a siphon, pulling water from the nearby Friant-Kern Canal. Once the water is flowing, gravity provides the power to keep it moving.
To maximize that flow, the basin had to be dredged. Eighteen inches of sediments, including a lot of road grime from the nearby highway, was removed, and a deep rip of the basin’s bottom churned up the soil to a depth of 6 feet. That allowed the fresh water to seep quickly into the parched earth.
The basin is located in an area that has been overdrafted, with too much water brought to the surface for farming, commercial and household needs over the years. Now, the basin is soaking up 5 or 6 acre-feet a day, reversing that trend. The idea is simple, Hagman said.
“We can store water there,” he said. “It takes water well.”
Little Cost, Big Bonus
The irrigation district’s users will also see a direct benefit, as the water Lindmore pumps into the basin means water credit from the state down the road.
The entire project carried a price tag of around $400,000. Much of that was covered by state funds from Prop 68. Lindmore ponied up $100,000 in matching funds. Hagman calls the money well spent and considers it an investment.
“That’s not a lot in the grand scheme,” he said.
Plus, when the district began moving water into the basin, there was so much of it available agencies were begging people to take it. As conditions eased, water prices stayed at historic lows, as little as $10 for an acre-foot, and the folks at Lindmore capitalized, buying and storing as much as they could get into the new “‘lake.”
Water is costly again, running about $110 an acre-foot now, but the district is still moving it over. He hopes the city will follow along, moving their excess water allowance into the storage basin when they’ve got more than they need.
“We’re going to put water in there in abundant years,” Hagman said. “Maybe, the city will put water in that basin when they have extra.”
There will be some minor costs involved with maintenance of the basin.
“There’s two ways you’ll have cost,” Hagman said. “There’s the pipeline, and Lindmore will take care of that. The other one would be as water comes from these surface streets and brings in finer sediments, it’ll start to affect the infiltration rate. It’s never had a sediment removal program. They (the city) just couldn’t afford to do that.”
Because the water flows due to siphoning, there’s no regular operating costs to keep the project going.
“All gravity-driven. Very green project,” Hagman said. “The water we put in there was very cheap. It’s more expensive now, but we’re still putting it in there.”
‘The Solution to Pollution is Dilution’
The city’s leaders hope this marks a turning point in the city’s decades-long battle for clean and ample water supplies.
“It’s an absolutely game-changing event here for the city of Lindsay,” Mayor Hipolito Cerros said during a video interview with the DWR. “It’s going to help us become a lot more resilient and … we’re no longer going to have to really rely on these external sources for water storage.”
The groundwater recharge project may also help Lindsay finally get a $1,000,000 contaminated well back online.
“Five or six years ago, Mike Camarena (Lindsay’s one-time director of city services and planning and interim city manager) and I got together and said, ‘What can we do?’” Hagman said. “He said, ‘I’ve got this well with all kinds of nitrates and perchlorates.’”
That well – Well Y-11 – is directly adjacent to the Mariposa Catch Basin, and renewing depleted underground water will eventually bring contamination down enough to make it safe again. As Hagman concisely puts it: “The solution to pollution is dilution.”
“Adding water back into that space, it’ll mitigate that somewhat,” he said.”It’s adding more clean water to the ground. If you dilute it enough, you get below the state limit on that constituent in the water.”
And the project won’t spread the contaminants far enough to pollute other water sources.
“We’re talking hundreds of feet, not thousands,” Hagman said.
Hope and a Better Economy
City leaders say the project has the potential to solve serious problems for Lindsay residents.
“We’re currently sitting right next to (Well) Y-11, which was closed in 2007 due to high levels of contaminants,” Mayor Cerros told the DWR. “And as soon as those contaminant levels are decreased because of the dilution process, we can open that up and really provide water in an effective and efficient manner for the city of Lindsay and our Farmers. So it’s a huge, huge win.”
Getting the well online will need some help from Mother Nature and El Niño.
“Maybe another one or two more events like this, and the well’s cleaned up and they can start using that well again,” Hagman said.
The real payoff for the city is the potential for economic growth.
“Lindsay is a big agriculture community, so this is going to really support our economic sector, you know,” Cerros told the DWS. “It’s really going to help the agriculture sector really have the water supply that they need in order to create the jobs and really support our local economy here.”
Camarena praised state leaders for assisting in the project.
“We’re a small town, you know. Thanks,” he said during the ribbon-cutting last month. “Thank you, state, for taking a look at us, giving us a chance at a project.”
Hagman echoed that sentiment.
“You know this gives us, gives people, hope to have this opportunity, and we’ve had wonderful people that we’ve worked with,” he said.
More Water Recharge Projects
With a first success under its belt, the Lindmore Irrigation District is moving on to other similar efforts to refresh groundwater. One of them is almost ready to start.
“We’re talking about another one that will benefit Tonyville and that area,” Hagman said. “We’ll be running water from Friant-Kern Canal with a federal grant.”
With funding and support from the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation – mixed with more Prop 68 cash – the Lindmore Irrigation District is planning a project like the one just completed. The next recharge effort will be along Lewis Creek near Tonyville, aptly named the Lewis Creek Recharge Project.
“We should start construction, hopefully, in November or December,” Hagman said. “It’s basically a pipe, a box and some sort of diffusion. It’s like a siphon.”
Tonyville, a village a few miles north of Lindsay on the edge of the Lindmore Irrigation District limits, has struggled with the same water issues plaguing many communities nestled against the southern Sierra Nevada foothills.
The Bureau describes the situation this way, placing an emphasis on long-term improvements for everyone living nearby:
“The Kaweah Subbasin has been in a significant state of overdraft and groundwater decline and established a sustainability goal of managing groundwater resources to preserve the viability of existing agricultural enterprises of the region and the smaller communities that provide much of their job base in the Subbasin, including the school districts serving these communities.”
While the bed of Lewis Creek and surrounding land is home to several endangered species – including Swainson’s hawk and loggerhead shrikes – the project is timed to avoid the birds nesting season. It’s also a potential habitat for San Joaquin kit foxes, and if their dens are found nearby, construction crews will have to adjust plans to avoid them.
Work on the project will be further limited to daylight hours to avoid disturbing the feeding of “special status” species of bats. The bats’ daytime roosts must also be left alone.
When the Lewis Creek project is working, plans call for pumping 3,000 acre-feet of water a year from the Friant-Kern into a 9-mile stretch of the creek. The recharge will be limited to years with excessive rainfall. While the recharge area is long, it’s also narrow. In total, about 30 acres will be included.
“When it’s really wet like this year, we have all the water we want to put someplace, and so this is a good spot for it,” Hagman said.