Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Groundwater in California

One of the water storage arguments being presented is using groundwater. This article looks at that option, which though usually can be quicker than above ground storage, if the aquifer is local, it also has many problems around water quality—especially in industrial areas—cost of replenishing and accountability around what is actually underground—what is being used and what is left—as well as what it will actually cost to replenish it.

Water 'war' may brew beneath surface
Aquifer control could pit districts vs. state
By Michael Gardner
March 27, 2007

SACRAMENTO – California literally sits on one of its best drought cushions.
Yet, despite the importance of groundwater, this largely arid state lacks an overall plan to take advantage of it. Nor does the state have a firm grasp of how much is squirreled away in underground bowls or where there is room for more.

Instead, aquifers for the most part are the province of local water agencies.

Managers armed with protectionist laws can jealously guard supplies. Some aquifers are shrinking as demand outstrips supply. Pollution caused by farms and industry plagues other basins.

Because it is out of sight, groundwater often tends to be out of mind.

Until now.

Democrats have elevated the availability of groundwater to a place alongside traditional arguments – the environment, conservation and desalination – against building additional reservoirs.

“It's much cheaper, faster and more efficient,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata, D-Oakland, arguing for a greater focus on groundwater.

But is it?

Relying on more subterranean supplies has its own challenges, not the least of which are finding extra water to store and an accessible place to keep it. Contracts over ownership must be negotiated. Miles of plumbing, along with energy contracts to power pumps, have to be put in place. Pollution, whether from farm fertilizers, industrial dumping or seawater intrusion, is a growing headache. Aquifers also cannot match the flood control provided by reservoirs.

“There is the whole realm of legal, institutional, political and economic issues,” said John Woodling, a groundwater specialist with the state Department of Water Resources.