Huge Water Cache Found Beneath California

     PALO ALTO, Calif. (CN) — Scientists at Stanford University say they have discovered a jackpot of 700 trillion gallons of water found deep beneath California that could nearly triple the drought-stricken state’s dwindling reserves.
     But while the state has lost about 63 trillion gallons of water over the past 18 months due to years of drought, the researchers stress that this potential solution for the Golden State’s water woes comes at a price: the higher cost of bringing the water up from about 1,000 to 3,000 feet underground.
     “Water a thousand feet down used to be too expensive to use,” study co-author Robert Jackson said. “Today it’s used widely. We need to protect all of our good quality water.”
     Residents of California have been forced to reduce their water usage as the state is now in its fifth year of severe drought, which has compelled the state to use additional groundwater supplies. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in 2014.
     Previous groundwater estimates are decades old and were determined using outdated technology, which failed to account for the additional water.
     But cost is only one of the issues associated with the new water find.
     Oil and gas drilling activities are occurring directly on about 30 percent of the sites reviewed by the researchers, which can threaten the water supply.
     The authors point to oil and gas drilling activities in Kern County, centered near the city of Bakersfield. The team found that one out of every six instances of drilling in the county occurred directly into freshwater aquifers, and one out of three for aquifers with water that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems drinkable if treated.
     Study co-author Mary Kang explained that hydraulic fracturing — fracking — or using other chemical treatments does not necessarily contaminate groundwater, though additional review and treatment is often necessary.
     “What we are saying is that no one is monitoring deep aquifers. No one’s following them through time to see how and if the water quality is changing,” Kang said. “We might need to use this water in a decade, so it’s definitely worth protecting.”
     Some of the deeper water has high salt concentration, which would require desalination and other potential treatment before it can be used for agriculture or drinking.
     The researchers also recommend conducting nuanced studies before tapping the deeper aquifers in order to avoid additional ground subsidence — the gradual sinking of the land — which has already caused some regions within the Central Valley to drop by tens of feet after tapping aquifers closer to the surface.
     The findings are also significant for regions that face ongoing or upcoming water shortages.
     Rising global temperatures have led several cities across the world to consider new methods for meeting their water demands, which makes the researchers’ findings particularly important.
     “Our findings are relevant to a lot of other places where there are water shortages, including Texas, China and Australia,” Kang said.
     The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.

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