California Drought

Drought Conditions Demand Water

Extreme drought conditions may create the demand for more well drilling in California.

A new study from Stanford researchers reports that there are trillions of gallons of water under California’s Central Valley. While water found beneath drought-stricken California is good news, the unfortunate reality is that the water is located 1,000 to 3,000 feet underground and requires substantial capital to retrieve.

Professor of Water Resource Management and Policy at UC Davis, as reported by Mercury News, stated “To be used as drinking water, it would have to be treated… And for a farmer, the drilling cost is very expensive.”

California and its $54 billion dollar agricultural industry are in dire need of water as we discussed in our last post here, but the troubling question remains… Is it worth the risk?

Leonard Konikow, an emeritus U.S. Geological Survey groundwater scientist and author of a 2013 federal government report on groundwater depletion in the U.S believes accessing the water would be too costly to consider.

Water Found Beneath Drought-Stricken CaliforniaHe states, “In a severe drought, such deep drilling for water might be justified for municipal or industrial supplies, but I can’t imagine that the cost would ever be justified for agricultural purposes.”

The water that lies far beneath the grounds could alleviate our water issues, but only temporarily, and the sobering truth is that these groundwater resources would not be replenished for thousands of years.

Groundwater overdraft has already resulted in noticeable sinking and pulling more water from the ground would only facilitate the collapse of empty cavities as more water is extracted. Land has begun dropping at alarming rates and environmental impacts are more prevalent.

Considerable Risks

Additionally, there are imposed risks of contamination from surrounding oil and gas extraction. As a last resort resource, these are risks that some claim we cannot undertake.

Chart of California's Distinct Groundwater Systems

California’s 515 distinct groundwater systems, listed to the left, are active wells that are below normal levels. This becomes a problem when excessive reliance on groundwater pumping caused land to sink and deteriorating groundwater quality.

After five years of drought conditions, this finding offers great news for California, but as for whether it will be utilized to alleviate our water issues is anyone’s best guess for now. The implications of using this newfound resource could bring major long-term repercussions as this resource will not be replenished anytime soon.