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Laboratory Joins Almond Industry Groundwater Recharge Research
Water Drop


Almond Board of California and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have announced a new partnership focused on better understanding subsurface water storage, quality and movement in relation to almond orchard groundwater recharge test sites. This important research will join the ongoing efforts by University of California, Davis and others to understand the potential of using California’s almond orchards for groundwater recharge.

The Almond Board has to date funded Berkeley Lab, a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory system charged with conducting unclassified research across a wide range of scientific disciplines, with $105,840 to study what’s happening underground at almond orchard groundwater recharge test sites. The research will be led by Peter Nico, PhD, 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.”

While groundwater is coming under management by the state of California through the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, research and data is critically needed to fully understand the dynamics of groundwater recharge under a variety of conditions. Recharging groundwater returns water to underground aquifers, collectively California’s largest water storage system, through managed flooding using seasonal floodwater.

“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 Gabriele Ludwig, PhD, Director of Sustainability and Environmental Affairs at the Almond Board. “Preliminary analysis of almond acreage indicates that nearly 675,000 acres are moderately good or better in their ability to recharge groundwater, and the new research with Berkeley Lab will bring even more insight into the progress to date.”

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

“We have very sophisticated hydrologic and geochemical computer codes we think we can couple with imaging to predict where water will go, and also importantly, how its chemistry may change through storage or retrieval,” Nico said.

The Berkeley Lab scientists will add particular expertise on the deeper subsurface, below the root zone of the almond trees.

This project is part of the Almond Board’s larger Accelerated Innovation Management (AIM) program, which includes an emphasis on creating more sustainable water resources for farmers as well as all Californians.

The new Berkeley Lab partnership expands ongoing existing Almond Board-funded work underway to identify which orchards are suitable for recharge; gauge groundwater recharge efforts’ effects on almond trees; and conduct advocacy work to ensure groundwater storage is a policy priority. Current partners include University of California, Davis; the environmental non-profit group Sustainable Conservation; and the agricultural sciences and private research firm Land IQ.