New data shows huge potential for California groundwater basins

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New data shows huge potential for California groundwater basins

A state-of-the-art project, three years in the making, is analyzing California's groundwater basins and the state's underground storage potential. The information could help California and the agriculture industry improve its water access and better prepare for inevitable drought cycles.

The program, called the Airborne Electromagnetic Surveys, consists of flying over nearly 95 groundwater basins in California and mapping findings up to 1,000 in depth below the surface.

Rosemary Knight, who was part of the proposal sent to the state's governor, said they are very close to gathering all the data they need for the California Department of Water Resources, where she is part of the advisory committee.

"We can map out where there are sands and gravels that we pump to get our groundwater," Knight said.  "We can just peel out layers and dig deeper and deeper into groundwater systems and you start seeing large packages of permeable material."

Groundwater basins provide natural, underground systems that, if utilized properly, can boost water storage capacity beyond lakes and reservoirs. In California, these systems have the potential to store up to 1.3 billion acre-feet of water. That's a huge increase from the roughly 40 million acre-feet of storage from above-ground reservoirs.

Steven Springhorn, a supervising engineering geologist at the California Department of Water Resources, said in an average year, about 40% of California's water supply comes from groundwater. That number goes up to 60% during dry years. Maintaining this water storage source, however, has been a challenge due to the differing materials and methods needed for recharge.

As stakeholders dive into the new groundwater data, Knight says new insights could provide a huge opportunity to get water back into groundwater systems.

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