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Study: Water Windfall Beneath California's Central Valley

Joe Moore
Valley Public Radio
A well-drilling rig searches for groundwater east of Clovis (file photo)

A new study finds California’s Central Valley has three times more water beneath it than previously estimated. As Capital Public Radio’s Amy Quinton reports, researchers say that doesn’t mean accessing the groundwater will be cheap or easy.

Researchers at Stanford University found what they call a “water windfall” deep beneath the Central Valley. Stanford Earth Science Professor Rob Jackson is the report’s co-author.

Jackson: “We estimate there are about two billion feet acre feet of fresh water underground in the Central Valley, that’s a lot of water.”

An acre foot is enough for the average California household for a year. It’s four times more water than previously thought if saltier water is included. Jackson says previous estimates from decades ago didn’t include water deeper than 1,000 feet. Wells in the Central Valley during the drought have been running dry and overpumped. But Preston Jordan with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab who reviewed the paper says using water from greater depths isn’t necessarily a solution.

Jordan: “I don’t think that the response to this would be that people will just cheer that they can drill deeper wells because they wouldn’t be able to use the water directly from those wells, they would have to add a treatment system which obviously raises the cost of that water pretty substantially.”

The study looked at data from the oil and gas industry, which typically drills deeper into the earth. The authors also warn that large groundwater withdrawals can cause subsidence, where the land sinks. 

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