May 12, 2021

California Expands Drought Emergency Declaration, Research Finds Declining Groundwater Levels

The drought emergency declaration includes 41 of 58 counties and covers 30% of California's nearly 40 million population, as research finds groundwater levels are declining and wells are drying up.

california-water

California Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded a drought emergency to the state. The declaration also seeks more than $6 billion in multiyear water spending, reported Associated Press.  

The emergency declaration includes 41 of 58 counties and covers 30% of California's nearly 40 million population. According to Newsom, a further expansion of the declaration is probable, as California is experiencing one of the warmest, driest springs on record.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of the state and the American West is in extensive drought, reported Associated Press. The expanded drought emergency declaration includes the counties in the Klamath River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Tulare Lake watersheds. 

"The hots are getting a lot hotter in this state, the dries are getting a lot drier," stated Gov. Newsom, reported Associated Press. "We have a conveyance system, a water system, that was designed for a world that no longer exists."

As a result, the governor is asking state lawmakers to approve what he said is a record $5.1 billion over four years for water projects and another $1 billion to assist Californians who are behind on their water bills, reported Associated Press.

Gov. Newsom’s proposed water spending includes $1.3 billion for drinking water and wastewater systems and $200 million would go to repair damaged canals. Other projects include: addressing groundwater cleanup, water recycling, fish and wildlife habitat, flood preparedness, weather forecasting, and agricultural water use, reported Associated Press.

UC Santa Barbara assistant professors Debra Perrone and Scott Jasechko compiled a comprehensive evaluation of groundwater wells to date, reported Science Daily. The report spans 40 countries that collectively account for half of all global groundwater pumping and compared depth trends to measurements from nearby monitoring wells.

According to Perrone and Jasechko, their research aimed to understand how close functional wells were to drying out. They discovered that groundwater levels are declining in many areas, but new wells are not being drilled deeper to keep pace with the falling water table, making the wells as vulnerable as older wells if the groundwater levels continue to decline, reported Science Daily.

"These findings highlight the importance of groundwater resources and groundwater management to the global community," stated Perrone about the research. "Putting all the data together reveals that declining groundwater levels threaten wells in many places across the world."

The professors compared the depths of local water tables against well depths and found that 6 to 20% of the wells in their sample were at risk of running dry if water levels continue to decline. 

Residents are being urged to limit their water use by limiting outdoor watering, checking for leaks, or taking shorter showers and turning off the water when washing dishes or brushing teeth.

On May 11, state water agencies, the California Water Data Consortium (Consortium) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) announced a partnership to make an open-source groundwater accounting platform freely available to help groundwater sustainability agencies manage the transition to sustainable supplies.

The open-source platform will enable water managers and landowners to track water supplies and use, create water budgets, model scenarios, and trade allocations of water within a district or basin, according to the California Department of Water Resources. 

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