Quantcast

NASA: California Needs 11 Trillion Gallons of Water to End Epic Drought

Climate

California’s record-setting three-year-old drought has left the state with a massive water deficit, and communities, agricultural interests and others warring over access to the supply.

Aerial photo showing low water level in South Lake reservoir in California because of drought.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Now groundbreaking new calculations based on Now groundbreaking new calculations based on NASA satellite data have revealed just how large that deficit is. A team of sci's Jet Propulsion Laborator (JPL) crunched data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) to figure out how much water it would take to end the drought. They determined that it would take 11 trillion gallons—about 1.5 times the maximum volume of the largest U.S. reservoir—to make up for drought losses due to record heat and low rainfall.

"Spaceborne and airborne measurements of Earth's changing shape, surface height and gravity field now allow us to measure and analyze key features of droughts better than ever before, including determining precisely when they begin and end and what their magnitude is at any moment in time," said NASA team leader Jay Famiglietti. "That's an incredible advance and something that would be impossible using only ground-based observations."

Record drought in the U.S. southwest has hit California especially hard. Image credit: NASA/JPL

The NASA team found that the volume of water in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins had decreased by 4 trillion gallons a year since 2011—more water than is used by the state's residents each year for domestic and municipal purposes—and that water storage in the two basins is currently 11 trillion gallons below normal, a deficit that has steadily increased since GRACE launched in 2002. Depletion of groundwater in California's fertile agricultural Central Valley is responsible for two-thirds of the loss.

"Integrating GRACE data with other satellite measurements provides a more holistic view of the impact of drought on water availability, including on groundwater resources, which are typically ignored in standard drought indices," said Matt Rodell, chief of the Hydrological Sciences Laboratory at Goddard.

Groundwater in California has been depleted at an unprecedented rate. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Making matters worse, data from NASA's Airborne Snow Observatory earlier this year showed that California's Sierra Nevada snowpack was half that of earlier estimates.

"The 2014 snowpack was one of the three lowest on record and the worst since 1977, when California's population was half what it is now," said Airborne Snow Observatory principal investigator Tom Painter of JPL. "Besides resulting in less snow water, the dramatic reduction in snow extent contributes to warming our climate by allowing the ground to absorb more sunlight. This reduces soil moisture, which makes it harder to get water from the snow into reservoirs once it does start snowing again."

The NASA scientists said that the recent rainstorms in California will do little to alleviate the water shortage, failing to provide anything close to the amount of water the state needs to end its prolonged drought.

"It takes years to get into a drought of this severity, and it will likely take many more big storms, and years, to crawl out of it," said Famiglietti.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

California Experiencing Most Severe Drought Ever Recorded

NASA Satellite Images Reveal Shocking Groundwater Loss in Drought-Stricken California

NOAA Report Misses Link Between California Drought and Human-Caused Climate Change

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A glacier is seen in the Kenai Mountains on Sept. 6, near Primrose, Alaska. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey have been studying the glaciers in the area since 1966 and their studies show that the warming climate has resulted in sustained glacial mass loss as melting outpaced the accumulation of new snow and ice. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Mark Mancini

On Aug. 18, Iceland held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change. The deceased party was Okjökull, a historic body of ice that covered 14.6 square miles (38 square kilometers) in the Icelandic Highlands at the turn of the 20th century. But its glory days are long gone. In 2014, having dwindled to less than 1/15 its former size, Okjökull lost its status as an official glacier.

Read More Show Less
Members of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America table at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18. Alex Schwartz

By Alex Schwartz

Among the many vendors at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18 sat three young people peddling neither organic vegetables, gourmet cheese nor handmade crafts. Instead, they offered liberation from capitalism.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
StephanieFrey / iStock / Getty Images

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Muffins are a popular, sweet treat.

Read More Show Less
Hackney primary school students went to the Town Hall on May 24 in London after school to protest about the climate emergency. Jenny Matthews / In Pictures / Getty Images

By Caroline Hickman

Eco-anxiety is likely to affect more and more people as the climate destabilizes. Already, studies have found that 45 percent of children suffer lasting depression after surviving extreme weather and natural disasters. Some of that emotional turmoil must stem from confusion — why aren't adults doing more to stop climate change?

Read More Show Less
Myrtle warbler. Gillfoto / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bird watching in the U.S. may be a lot harder than it once was, since bird populations are dropping off in droves, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces the co-founding of The Climate Pledge at the National Press Club on Sept. 19 in Washington, DC. Paul Morigi / Getty Images for Amazon

The day before over 1,500 Amazon.com employees planned a walkout to participate in today's global climate strike, CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a sweeping plan for the retail and media giant to be carbon neutral by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris agreement schedule.

Read More Show Less

By Winona LaDuke

For the past seven years, the Anishinaabe people have been facing the largest tar sands pipeline project in North America. We still are. In these dying moments of the fossil fuel industry, Water Protectors stand, prepared for yet another battle for the water, wild rice and future of all. We face Enbridge, the largest pipeline company in North America, and the third largest corporation in Canada. We face it unafraid and eyes wide open, for indeed we see the future.

Read More Show Less
The climate crisis often intensifies systems of oppression. Rieko Honma / Stone / Getty Images Plus

By Mara Dolan

We see the effects of the climate crisis all around us in hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and rising sea levels, but our proximity to these things, and how deeply our lives are changed by them, are not the same for everyone. Frontline groups have been leading the fight for environmental and climate justice for centuries and understand the critical connections between the climate crisis and racial justice, economic justice, migrant justice, and gender justice. Our personal experiences with climate change are shaped by our experiences with race, gender, and class, as the climate crisis often intensifies these systems of oppression.

Read More Show Less