California has lost trillions of gallons of water as its crushing drought keeps unfolding, changing everything from how restaurants wash dishes to lawn care, so it would seem to be good news that Stanford researchers have found 713 trillion gallons of water in California’s Central Valley. But while this is an excellent find in some respects, California’s drought problems are far from over.
Called a “water windfall” by the Stanford team that found it, a groundwater reservoir in Central Valley has turned out to be substantially larger than estimated. Three times as big, in fact, and it’s undeniably good news for a parched state. The researchers decided to alter how they looked for water, as most of California’s water estimates were based on decades-old data and outdated drilling technology. Sure enough, it turns out there’s far more water under the valley than anybody realized, and these techniques will likely find more water elsewhere in California. But just because it’s been found doesn’t mean it can be used.
The first issue is that in order to get at this water, you have to dig some incredibly deep wells — up to 3,000 feet deep. Much of the water is also dangerously close to natural gas and oil-pumping sites, so it may have some serious quality issues that make it undrinkable. If that weren’t enough, draining too much of the water might collapse the Central Valley. And the biggest problem of all is the fact that the drought itself isn’t going anywhere.
Last summer was the hottest on record and it looks like 2016 will break that. Simply put, the drought, the water restrictions, and the lack of lawns are the new normal in California, and are likely to be that way for a long, long time. Finding trillions of gallons of water is great news. But it just means California will have to figure out how to use it carefully.