Allensworth groundwater storage project receives funding from DWR

A grant was received to build gravity-fed basins to catch usable flood runoff in Allensworth

TULARE COUNTY – A plan has been put in place to help replenish groundwater supplies in Allensworth, a community historically affected by water supply issues. 

Led by the Tri-County Water Authority, the Allensworth Project is a multi-component plan aimed at replenishing groundwater supplies and mitigating emergency flood water damage by constructing two gravity-fed basins to catch flood runoff from the White River. The basins will divert water from the river for direct use and recharge, and will be used as a recreational park during dry seasons.

“We worked hard on this project. We put a lot of funding into working on the language for our portion of the grant, so it’s exciting to see that it worked out and we’re able to do it,” said Deanna Jackson, executive director of the Tri-County Water Authority. 

Funding for the project comes from the California Department of Water Resources’ Sustainable Groundwater Management (SGM) Grant Program, which is awarding $150 million to regional groundwater sustainability agencies across the state. The funding will go toward projects aimed at  managing critically overdrafted groundwater basins in places like Allensworth.

Currently, Allensworth’s roughly 575 residents must buy bottled drinking water from nearby towns, as the water from their wells is contaminated with arsenic. The community has no access to surface water and must rely entirely on groundwater reserves. There is one holding tank that has fallen into disrepair.

“Their current holding tank, it’s my understanding that it doesn’t even hold enough water for fire protection if there was ever a fire in the community,” Jackson said. 

 The town is also impacted by flood damage during storms. The Allensworth Project provides an opportunity to both capture usable surface water and provide the area with flood protection.

The first and most prioritized phase of the project includes the construction of a 40-acre basin to store approximately 220 acre-feet of water. The basin will be placed downslope from the town and will capture floodwaters from the White River. It will be placed on 1,500 acres of land currently owned by the Angiola Water District, who are strong proponents of the project. This phase is expected to be completed by 2025.

The next two phases involve constructing recreational facilities within one of the proposed basins and improving 9.7 miles of the White River canal. Ideas for the recreation area include a walking trail, children’s playgrounds and sports fields. Additional funding is still needed before these phases can begin, as they aren’t included in the SGM grant. 

Allensworth is the first and only California town to have been founded and governed by African Americans. Col. Allen Allensworth founded his namesake town in southwestern Tulare County in 1908, during a time when groundwater fed by the Tule Lake was gushing just below the basin’s surface.

According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation’s history of Allensworth, tributaries of the lake were diverted and the marshes of the former lake were drained and converted to agriculture production in the early 19th Century. Arsenic was soon discovered in Allensworth and the need to drill a deeper well arose. Allensworth himself was working on a plan to negotiate for a deeper well when he was hit by a motorcycle and killed in 1914. Then the community was hit with a drought from 1929-1934, which coincided with the Great Depression and the loss of many jobs for those in the town who were forced to move to larger cities to look for work. By the 1940s, Allensworth became home to mostly migrant farm workers, who didn’t settle there long and the homes began to deteriorate. By 1972 the population had shrunk to less than 100 and the town was almost abandoned until 1976, when it was named a state historic park and interest in preserving the town was renewed.

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