In a normal year, groundwater accounts for 40 percent of California’s water supply. That number jumps to 60 percent during a drought. It’s also critically important for sustaining certain types of aquatic, terrestrial and coastal ecosystems.

Yet decades of unregulated groundwater withdrawal has compromised that ability to provide for people and nature. Wells dry up, water quality declines, and rivers, wetlands, and springs disappear.

To address this problem, California passed legislation requiring that groundwater basins be managed sustainably. We still face gaps, however, in our understanding of how to manage these basins to ensure the health of the ecosystems they support. Conservancy scientists are working with water managers and state agencies to close those gaps.

Science in Action

Freshwater | Science

Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems

How can we manage groundwater to benefit both people and nature?

Freshwater | Technology | Science

Groundwater for Ecosystem Health

How much groundwater do ecosystems need to survive?

2017 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Planning | Publications & Reports

Optimizing California’s Transmission System For Renewable Energy

Energy+Environmental Economics for The Nature Conservancy, Arne Olson, Doug Allen, Vivian Li, Emily Leslie

California leads the nation in the transition to a clean energy economy. However, current transmission planning processes limit development of new renewable resources. This report, produced for the Conservancy by Energy+Environmental Economics, analyzes an alternative transmission planning framework (Energy-Only) using the San Joaquin Valley as a case…


2017 | Freshwater | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

A Global Synthesis of Managing Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems Under Sustainable Groundwater Policy

Melissa M. Rohde, Ray Froend, Jeanette Howard

Groundwater is a vital water supply worldwide for people and nature. However, species and ecosystems that depend on groundwater for some or all of their water needs, known as groundwater dependent ecosystems (GDEs), are increasingly becoming threatened worldwide. This paper provides an overview of how…


2017 | Freshwater | Terrestrial | Economics | Publications & Reports

Market-Based Mechanisms For Securing Environmental Water In California

Sarah Heard, Siobhan King, Eric Hallstein

California’s water supply is becoming increasingly unreliable. During dry times, consumptive use often outstrips supplies. As a result, people and nature suffer. This imbalance of supply and demand will likely grow worse if future demand for agricultural and urban water increases alongside a warming climate.…


2016 | Freshwater | Science | Publications & Reports

Benefits and Economic Costs of Managed Aquifer Recharge in California

Debra Perrone, Melissa M. Rohde

Managed aquifer recharge (MAR) projects can play an important role in ensuring California manages its groundwater sustainably. This study, the first to investigate the benefits and economic costs of MAR projects in the state, found California MAR projects to be a cost-effective storage strategy, exhibit a…


2016 | Freshwater | Maps & Webmaps

How and Where Nature Uses Groundwater

Kirk Klausmeyer, Jeanette Howard, Sandi Matsumoto, Sally Liu, Melissa Rohde

Groundwater is essential to the health and viability of plants, animals and ecosystems. Many tree species, like willows and cottonwoods, rely on groundwater to survive seasonal and annual dry spells. Fish and other aquatic life need groundwater to keep rivers flowing. When unsustainable management causes groundwater levels…


2016 | Freshwater | Science | Publications & Reports

Sustainable Groundwater Management: What We Can Learn from California's Central Valley Streams

The Nature Conservancy, RMC Consultants, Inc.

Groundwater is intimately connected to surface water, which has profound implications for sustainable water resource management. California has historically overlooked this important interaction and as a consequence, decisions about groundwater extractions have generally failed to address the resulting impacts to aquatic ecosystems such as rivers,…


2016 | Freshwater | Science | Publications & Reports

Groundwater and Stream Interaction in California’s Central Valley: Insights for Sustainable Groundwater Management

The Nature Conservancy, RMC Consultants, Inc.

Groundwater is intimately connected to surface water, which has profound implications for sustainable water resource management. California has historically overlooked this important interaction and as a consequence, decisions about groundwater extractions have generally failed to address the resulting impacts to aquatic ecosystems such as rivers,…


2015 | Freshwater | Planning | Data

California Freshwater Species Database v2

Jeanette Howard, Kirk Klausmeyer, Kurt Fesenmyer

The California Freshwater Species Database is the first comprehensive geospatial database of California’s freshwater species compiled and standardized into single format from nearly 500 sources. It provides a single source for geodata covering the plants and animals that rely on California’s freshwater resources to survive.…


2015 | Freshwater | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Patterns of Freshwater Species Richness, Endemism, and Vulnerability in California

Jeanette K. Howard, Kirk R. Klausmeyer, Kurt A. Fesenmyer, Joseph Furnish, Thomas Gardali, Ted Grantham, Jacob V. E. Katz, Sarah Kupferberg, Patrick McIntyre, Peter B. Moyle, Peter R. Ode, Ryan Peek, Rebecca M. Quiñones, Andrew C. Rehn, Nick Santos, Steve Schoenig, Larry Serpa, Jackson D. Shedd, Joe Slusark, Joshua H. Viers, Amber Wright, Scott A. Morrison

The California Freshwater Species Database is the first comprehensive geospatial database of California’s freshwater species compiled and standardized into single format from nearly 500 sources. It provides a single source for geodata covering the plants and animals that rely on California’s freshwater resources to…


2015 | Freshwater | Data

Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems in California data

Jeanette Howard, Matt Merrifield

The California Freshwater Species Database is the first comprehensive geospatial database of California’s freshwater species compiled and standardized into single format from nearly 500 sources. It provides a single source for geodata covering the plants and animals that rely on California’s freshwater resources to survive.


2013 | Freshwater | Planning | Science | Publications & Reports

Below the Surface: California’s Freshwater Diversity

Jeanette Howard, Kirk Klausmeyer, Kurt Fesenmyer

Californians face profound decisions regarding the management of their state’s increasingly limited water supply. Critical for decision-making is information about the plants and animals that also rely on California’s freshwater resources to survive. This report includes an atlas of the freshwater biodiversity patterns in California,…


2010 | Freshwater | Publications & Reports

Mapping Groundwater Dependent Ecosystems in California

Jeanette Howard, Matt Merrifield

In 2014 the California legislature passed a three-bill package (SB 1168, AB 1739, and SB 1319) of groundwater reform legislation that was the most significant update of California water policy in several decades. The legislation provides authorities and guidance for local agencies to develop sustainable…