Pumping California’s Central Valley Dry

New analysis of the tricky problem of quantifying California’s groundwater depletion uses data from NASA’s GRACE satellite to come up with some startling numbers:

Here we use 78 months (October, 2003–March, 2010) of data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite mission to estimate water storage changes in California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins. We find that the basins are losing water at a rate of 31.0 ± 2.7 mm yr?1 equivalent water height, equal to a volume of 30.9 km3 for the study period, or nearly the capacity of Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States.

Can you say “unsustainable”?

  • Citation: Famiglietti, J. S., M. Lo, S. L. Ho, J. Bethune, K. J. Anderson, T. H. Syed, S. C. Swenson, C. R. de Linage, and M. Rodell(2011), Satellites measure recent rates of groundwater depletion in California’s Central Valley, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L03403, doi:10.1029/2010GL046442.
  • More in the press: Groundwater Vanishing in the Central Valley, Pat Brennan, Orange County Register, Feb. 8, 2011


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  3. Recalling that famous photo of the utility pole with signs indicating the drop in water levels over the decades, I wonder what the altimeters are saying? I think it’s always worth mentioning in such articles that overdrafting, in this type of basin anyway, results in a permanent loss of recharge capacity.

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