Additional Fresh Groundwater Discovered Beneath California’s Central Valley

Researchers from Stanford University have dug a little deeper below the Earth’s surface to find some 2,700 cubic kilometers of fresh groundwater beneath California’s Central Valley — more than three times the amount thought to exist in previous estimates.

The “water windfall,” as the study’s authors called it, may not be a silver bullet solution to the state’s drought problems, though.

Robert Jackson and Mary Kang of Stanford University released their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week to mixed applause and skepticism from other experts in the field. The research involved an analysis of California’s oil and gas wells to map potential freshwater aquifer supplies between 1,000 to 3,000 feet underground.

“We’re lucky to have some extra water,” Jackson told the San Francisco Gate. “Now we need to consider how best to use or save it.”

Others aren’t so sure it’s feasible to access the water at all. “The authors have not ‘discovered’ more freshwater,” said Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena and a UC Irvine professor. “They have simply included huge volumes of waters of very low, nonpotable quality in their estimates.”

Still, Jackson sticks by the potential import of their findings.

“One criticism has been that the water is of poor quality and too deep to use — I don’t think that’s true,” Jackson said. “Most of the water identified is freshwater quality, and most of it is between 1,000 and 3,000 feet deep. It’s not miles underground.”

Sourcing groundwater is not a novel idea; Americans already use some 79.6 billion gallons of it every day — the equivalent of 2,923 soda cans per person. While the Stanford study may not be of immediate use, it could shape future policies regarding drilling for oil and gas, which can contaminate groundwater supplies.

The deeper groundwater in question “may, perhaps in several decades, become an important water source that could be extracted and treated with minimal environmental consequences,” Famiglietti conceded. “Given that possibility, the idea that they should be pre-emptively protected is worthy of careful consideration.”

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