In Arizona, verdant fields of crops and a growing sprawl of suburban homes mean a sharp demand for water in the middle of the desert. Meeting that demand includes drawing from massive stores of water in underground aquifers. But some experts say they’re overtaxed, and shouldn’t be seen as a long-term solution for a region where the water supply is expected to shrink in the decades to come.
One day in early October, a group of University of California, Merced, students went to the campus Smart Farm, augurs in hand, to explore the soil for the best spots to locate moisture sensors. They were not looking in the root zone to monitor how much water is available but instead for areas lower in the soil to study how irrigation and stormwater can travel far enough beneath the plants to recharge the groundwater below.
Bracing for potentially a second consecutive year of dry conditions, California water officials, farmers and researchers participating in an irrigation conference discussed recharging aquifers with stormwater and increased water efficiency among ways to diversify the state’s water supply. The 59th annual California Irrigation Institute conference was held virtually last week, in time for the year’s second manual snow survey by the California Department of Water Resources.
As California’s economy skyrocketed during the 20th century, its land headed in the opposite direction. A booming agricultural industry in the state’s San Joaquin Valley, combined with punishing droughts, led to the over-extraction of water from aquifers. Like huge, empty water bottles, the aquifers crumpled, a phenomenon geologists call subsidence. By 1970, the land had sunk as much as 28 feet in the valley, with less-than-ideal consequences for the humans and infrastructure above the aquifers.
Residents of the Santa Ynez and Lompoc Valleys may see an unusual sight in the skies this November, and it won’t be a UFO.
It will be a low-flying helicopter carrying a large hexagonal frame. This unique equipment is part of a project to map aquifers and improve the understanding of groundwater in the area. The project is being conducted by Santa Barbara County and the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District in cooperation with the local water agencies that comprise the three Groundwater Sustainability Agencies in the Santa Ynez River Valley Groundwater Basin.
San Diego is not well endowed with many freshwater sources to support its growing population, so some water experts are perplexed the city’s ignoring a self-replenishing local groundwater source that, though small in size, is safe from the threat of natural disasters and reliably recharged by the San Diego River.
As the Department of Homeland Security sped construction of new barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, it ignored concerns from the Fish and Wildlife Service not to abuse groundwater resources and put the survival of some endangered species at risk, new documents show.
If you’re reading this, chances are you don’t really have to think about where your drinking water is coming from, how your food was grown, or what effects such processes have had on the environment. Specifically, in reference to our drinking water, around half of the US population gets their drinking water from either public or private wells.
The deadline passed at the end of January for local agencies representing 19 of the state’s most stressed groundwater basins to submit plans for how the basins will reach sustainability during the next 20 years. It’s a milestone in implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Speaking during the annual California Irrigation Institute conference in Sacramento last week, Tim Godwin of the California Department of Water Resources said the department is now reviewing the submitted plans. DWR will ultimately grade the plans as adequate; incomplete, which gives agencies 180 days to submit clarifying information; or inadequate, which requires DWR to consult with the State Water Resources Control Board on next steps.
Much of California’s water supply is a hidden asset: Deep below the surface, rocks, gravel and sand store water like a sponge, in an underground zone called an aquifer.
In dry years, this groundwater has been tapped to save farms, keep grass green and provide drinking water to millions of Californians. But over time, people have taken more water out than nature has put back in.