Southern California is truly an arid desert. If not for abundant water, Southern California would not be the booming metropolis we know today. But despite the uptick in rainfall levels over the past two years, California’s next drought is on its way.

“It’s not a question that drought will return to California; it’s only a matter of time,” said Metropolitan Water District’s (MWD) Board Chairwoman Gloria B. Gray. “Although our reservoirs are nearly full now, we’re not letting up on our efforts to capture and store as much water as possible. We must be prepared for the future.”

Gray make the comment in reference to MWD’s new groundwater banking agreement that will allow the district to store up to 280,000 acre-feet of water in SoCal’s Antelope Valley according to the Southern California Partnership for Jobs.

MWD is funding up to $131 million in capital costs for a new groundwater banking program along the State Water Project (SWP) in a partnership with the Antelope Valley-East Kern (AVEK) Water Agency. The funds will underwrite the construction of recharge basins to store water and groundwater wells to recover the water as well as funding the costs for AVEK’s operation and maintenance of the facilities.

The MWD/AVEK partnership will allow MWD the opportunity to store up to 280,000 acre-feet of water and to access up to 70,000 acre-feet of the stored water annually. MWD would directly pump the annual amount into the East Branch of the SWP’s California Aqueduct, which serves Southern California. One acre-foot of water is nearly 326,000 gallons, about the amount used by three typical Southern California households a year.

MWD’s General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger praised the benefits of the program saying, “A huge benefit of this partnership is that it’s not an exchange program in which we would have to rely on the State Water Project’s allocation levels to get this water back. Instead, we will directly pump the water up when we need it. By collaborating with our member agencies and a fellow State Water Project contractor, we’re generating big benefits for the region that will be invaluable in the coming years.”

Meteorologists believe that climate change will reduce the winter snowfall and increase rainfall amounts. If that proves true, the state will need more man-made storage infrastructure to capture and store seasonal rainfall.

Additional water storage statewide, either surface reservoirs or underground aquifers, is critical to helping California weather future droughts more easily.

Federal and state water officials are planning to expand major reservoirs to gain marginal increases in capacity, but we need to find funding for millions more acre-feet of new water storage, even without climate change, as the current drought cycles demonstrate.