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California Is Drilling for Water That Fell to Earth 20,000 Years Ago

California Is Drilling for Water That Fell to Earth 20 000 Years Ago Mother Jones


"If we continue irrigating at the increasing rates that we are in the US, the bottom line is that can't be sustained," said Leonard Konikow, a retired US Geological Survey hydrogeologist in Virginia. "That can't go on forever."

A new article by Konikow in the journal Groundwater estimates that nearly 1,000 cubic kilometers—about twice the volume of Lake Erie—was depleted across the United States from 1900 to 2008. That's enough to contribute to rising sea levels, along with melting glaciers and polar ice.

"That really surprised a lot of people," Konikow said.

The pace of depletion has jumped dramatically since 2000. And Konikow identified one area that appears to have the most serious depletion problem in the nation—California's agricultural powerhouse, the Central Valley, especially its more arid southern portion.

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I find it surprising that drilling for water is more cost effective than desalination of ocean waters.

Then again, California only has one year of water reserves remaining.

From that article:

Statewide, we've been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought. NASA data reveal that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century.

Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

How does California have no contingency plan?!

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