By TIM HEARDEN

Capital Press

CORNING, Calif. -- Scientists plan to dig deep to learn more about an aquifer under the north Sacramento Valley.

A three-year investigation by water agencies in five counties will monitor the Lower Tuscan Formation aquifer.

More information about the system could impact land-use decisions , said Paul Gosselin, director of the Butte County Department of Water and Resource Conservation.

Found about 1,000 feet below the surface, the Lower Tuscan aquifer is an underground lake that in many places is confined, meaning it does not seep into other aquifers. Most wells in the area tap aquifers above the Lower Tuscan.

The study comes as water shortages worsened by a three-year drought have begun to focus more attention on the role and potential of groundwater. In a separate effort, three Sacramento Valley water districts have been working with environmentalists and state water officials to model the behavior of the valley's aquifers.

The project uses test wells in the depth range of 1,500 feet -- roughly three times the depth of most private wells -- and districts would likely use the same wells for a future management plan, Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District General Manager Thad Bettner has said.

The counties' study will, among other things, create a database that will define the aquifer's storage values and characterize the impact to the aquifer from increased pumping, Gosselin said.

A recharge assessment will include a study of how groundwater would be influenced by an influx of surface water to the aquifer and the movement of groundwater to the ground surface, he said.

The project -- which will include a public awareness and outreach campaign beginning next spring -- aims to provide a scientific basis for better informed decisions, Gosselin said.

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