Posted: Thursday, December 24, 2009 9:00 AM
Capital Press file photo
A well rig used at the site west of Madera, Calif. Federal stimulus funds will dig up to 50 new wells and retrofit up to 40 old wells.
NASA study details degradation of California's aquifers
By WES SANDER
As a new study points out the dire condition of California's aquifers, farmers will pump more ground water to cope with three years of drought.
USDA is funneling $40 million to help increase the pumping of well water in the Central Valley.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced in July the department would send emergency drought aid from President Barack Obama's stimulus package to drill and renovate up to 135 wells, a number that has since decreased.
Meanwhile, California's Department of Water Resources in early December projected an allocation of 5 percent of requested deliveries to water contractors next year. It was the lowest projection since 1993, when the state predicted a 10 percent allocation.
The state Board of Food and Agriculture board has addressed ground water overdraft issues this year, calling attention to the ground subsidence that has caused water-conveyance infrastructure to buckle and drop, impacting its capacity.
But board member Marvin Meyers, a longtime farmer who has fallowed some of his acreage on the San Joaquin Valley's westside, points out that many farmers are barely surviving with the help of ground water.
"If you take their surface water away and you take their ground water, you put them out of business," Meyers said. "If we don't get an increase in surface water this year, it really is over."
The federal stimulus funds will help dig up to 50 new wells, retrofit up to 40 old ones and install temporary pipes and pumps to move water to crops and orchards, federal officials said. More than $2 million will be used for monitoring the real-time ecological impacts of wells in sensitive areas, and proposed new wells will undergo environmental review.
Meanwhile, researchers from NASA and the University of California-Irvine have presented a first-of-its-kind study measuring the decline of the state's ages-old aquifers.
The scientists used data from twin satellites that pick up changes in ground water levels by measuring the earth's gravitational pull. It was the first use of space-based technology to measure ground water losses in California and elsewhere in the world.
From October 2003 through March of this year, the project tracked how Earth's gravitational pull on the satellites changed as the amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins dried up.
The researchers found that more than three-quarters of the loss was due to ground water pumping in the southern Central Valley, primarily to irrigate crops.
California, unlike other Western states, does not regulate groundwater, leaving the task to local districts.
San Joaquin Valley farmer Dan Errotabere has dug three wells as deep as 1,200 feet to irrigate his tomatoes, almonds and garlic in recent years.
"We're using this water as a last resort, but pretty soon we're going to need a policy to protect ourselves from ourselves," he said.