'Shocking' underground water loss in US drought

Jul 24, 2014
This picture taken from a helicopter shows a drought affected area on the outskirts of San Francisco, California, on July 23, 2014

A major drought across the western United States has sapped underground water resources, posing a greater threat to the water supply than previously understood, scientists said Thursday.

The study involves seven western states—including Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, California, New Mexico and Nevada—in an area known as the Colorado River Basin.

Since 2000, the region has seen the driest 14-year period in a century, and researchers now say three quarters of the has come from underground.

The total amount of loss is almost double the volume of the nation's largest reservoir, Nevada's Lake Mead, said the study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

From 2004 to 2013, satellite data has shown that the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, it said.

"This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking," said lead study author Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the University of California, Irvine.

"We don't know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don't know when we're going to run out," added Castle.

NASA said the study is "the first to quantify the amount that groundwater contributes to the water needs of western states."

This picture taken from a helicopter shows a drought affected area near Los Altos Hills, California, on July 23, 2014

The data came from the NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite, a joint mission with the German Aerospace Center and the German Research Center for Geosciences.

Experts say water levels and losses in rivers and lakes is well documented, but underground aquifers are not as well understood.

The satellite was able to detect below by measuring the gravitational pull of the region as it changed over time due to rising or falling water reserves.

The Colorado River Basin supplies water to some 40 million people in seven states, and irrigates about four million acres (1.6 million hectares) of farmland.

"The Colorado River Basin is the water lifeline of the western United States," said senior author Jay Famiglietti, senior water cycle scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

He said the basin, like others worldwide, was relying on groundwater to make up for the limited surface-water supply.

"We found a surprisingly high and long-term reliance on groundwater to bridge the gap between supply and demand," he said.

"Combined with declining snowpack and population growth, this will likely threaten the long-term ability of the basin to meet its water allocation commitments to the seven basin states and to Mexico," Famiglietti said.

Explore further: Satellites show 'total' California water storage at near-decade low

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Shootist
1.8 / 5 (15) Jul 24, 2014
100 1000MW fission plants flashing sea water to fresh, deionized and pumped into the aquifer.

Problem, if there really is a problem, solved.

Plus you get to charge your battery powered cars without bringing down the grid.
Scroofinator
1.4 / 5 (11) Jul 24, 2014
Now what kind of fool could downvote something so sensible (and feasible) as making our own fresh water? Oh, the thermodynamics kind, seems to be a lot of them around these parts.

Honestly, not to sure about going nuclear tho. If anything, I would try to setup a series of water turbines all the way down the Mississippi and the Colorado. Have some convert water, some produce hydrogen, the others just get put to the grid. Our energy would be setup to distribute from the center of the nation. Might even create a few jobs too.

We have the technology to do a lot of things, why aren't we?

supamark23
4.8 / 5 (5) Jul 24, 2014
Well, on the "up" side... the probable severe El Nino event coming this fall should recharge the aquifers in the western states though the mudslides might be a bit of a downer.
kochevnik
Jul 24, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Scottingham
2 / 5 (2) Jul 24, 2014
The fission idea is feasible, but not with our 'current' tech. Thermal water based reactors are complex to build and keep safe. Lead cooled fast reactors on the other hand...those have the ability to be mass produced in a remote factory and dropped into place.

Containment would also be significantly easier since the lead coolant already provides a lot of protection, but the reactor isn't under pressure so if something went wrong it would pop like current ones.

Of course, it's currently illegal to reprocess our 'waste' so we can't make these reactors in the US. Using a few existing bombs for the ~30% enriched fuel necessary to start it, they would run purely on what current reactors call waste.

Google Dual Fluid Reactors.
retrosurf
5 / 5 (10) Jul 24, 2014
Pipe dreams, almost literally, one and all.

A reactor takes an average of 4 years to build, so no reactor construction can help us with this drought.

Even if we had all the power necessary to support widespread adoption of electric cars, the grid still couldn't convey the power.

Turbines on the Mississippi and the Colorado River? You mean more dams, and more hydropower? The Mississippi river is a terrible candidate for hydropower (very shallow gradient). The Colorado River is a dead end for hydropower, because of the need for the water by the cities, and the drought.

El Nino is currently forecast as moderate, at best: "At this time, the forecasters anticipate El Niño will peak at weak to moderate strength during the late fall and early winter).

And the Liquid-Lead reactor sure has a bunch of hand-waving around the topic of "continuous fission poison removal." It's hard to recommend a liquid-Pb reactor when there isn't even a pilot plant.

Keep smoking it if it helps you cope.
strangedays
4 / 5 (4) Jul 24, 2014
retrosurf
Even if we had all the power necessary to support widespread adoption of electric cars, the grid still couldn't convey the power.


Not true retrosurf - http://cleantechn...es-find/
Scroofinator
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 24, 2014
You mean more dams, and more hydropower?

Hydropower, yes, those ecosystem destroyers, hell no. I was thinking a large scale, more efficient version of this:
http://phys.org/n...ity.html
Maybe top it with some high efficiency solar panels and a couple of wind turibines. The less intrusive the better.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (6) Jul 25, 2014
From 2004 to 2013, satellite data has shown that the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, it said.

Acre feet? Jesus. Why don't they just give it in barn lightyears?
Egleton
5 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2014


From 2004 to 2013, satellite data has shown that the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, it said.

Acre feet? Jesus. Why don't they just give it in barn lightyears?


I prefer arshin desiatinas.
ar18
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 25, 2014
This is a case of "wag the dog". The real problem isn't a "drought", the real problem is over-utilization of water resources. There are just too many people and it is sucking the land dry everywhere.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2014
From 2004 to 2013, satellite data has shown that the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, it said.

Acre feet? Jesus. Why don't they just give it in barn lightyears?

Cuz they're different than city light years...
holoman
5 / 5 (3) Jul 27, 2014
Maybe people cant see the forest because of the trees.

Even if a solution were available do you think Corporate America ( 1 per centers who control 98 % of the wealth in the US would NOT allow this to touch their investments) reality my friend, the HAVES don't give a rat's petuty about our country and its people, only their bank accounts.

Greed is alive and well in California and the US !

They're are many promising technologies that have been shelved already by 1 % ers.

flying_finn
5 / 5 (1) Jul 28, 2014
Some countries talk about drought issues. Others act.

http://en.wikiped...ustralia
ViperSRT3g
5 / 5 (1) Jul 28, 2014
This is going to be interesting to see how quickly these desalination plants can be designed, constructed, tested, and then integrated into the existing water infrastructure. It will also be interesting to see how much water people will suddenly be conserving once they realize how much more expensive it becomes.
SURFIN85
5 / 5 (1) Jul 28, 2014
I'll predict that any politician advocating a course of increasing the price of freshwater will get his head served on a platter. I'll predict absolutely no viable plans or processes will be put in place until major agricultural damage is done. I'll predict the resurrection of insane engineering schemes like pipelines and towing icebergs to solve the problems. I'll predict that when the golf courses go brown the rich will get up and leave in their Lear Jets.

Americans are the most profligate energy and resource wasters on the planet. Like fungus, when the food supply is used up, a fruiting body is constructed and their germinal spores are ejected to the trade winds in search of a new host.