Dampen Your Enthusiasm

A water windfall comes ‘with caution.’

Good news for drought-plagued California — Stanford research shows there’s three times more freshwater under the parched Central Valley than had been previously measured. But that’s no license for lollygagging in the shower, says co-author Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science, who calls the bounty “water with caution.”

Using data from more than 35,000 oil and gas wells, Jackson and postdoctoral associate Mary Kang delved far deeper than old groundwater estimates, which bottomed out at 1,000 feet.

Their motivation, Jackson says, was to understand a vital resource in order to protect it, whether from thirsty cities pumping ever deeper or from contamination from oil and gas drilling.

The vastness of what they found surprised them, Jackson says, but the gigantic aquifers are no panacea. Some of them are too deep or too brackish to be practically useful, and injudicious use could exacerbate subsidence problems resulting from overpumping.

Still, the reserves could help California face a bleak future framed by its swelling population, rising temperatures and decreasing precipitation. If only 10 percent of the water were to prove usable, it would be three times more than all the area groundwater depleted in the past 50 years, Jackson says.

Just know Jackson has no plans to stop his Navy-style showers. “We need to decide how much of this to spend and how much to save for the future. We advocate saving as much as possible.” •