Water + Energy


Visualizing California ground water resources and alternatives


Groundwater withdrawals are increasing across the United States, particularly in California and other states now facing prolonged droughts. Groundwater provides one fifth of the fresh water withdrawn annually in the U.S. and two fifths of the irrigation water for agriculture and other uses. Current rates of groundwater pumping are unsustainable in many locations. Across the U.S., groundwater depletion doubled between 1990 and 2008.

The economic impacts of the current drought have been cushioned by increased withdrawals of groundwater, but at the cost of increased overdraft.

In addition, coastal communities in California are turning to seawater desalination, an expensive but reliable option for fresh water supply.

This collaborative project will combine state and federal knowledge with data and expertise from scientists in academia and the private sector. New datasets of groundwater quantity and quality will be assembled from diverse sources such as oil and gas databases. Data needs include estimates of salinity, metals and other regulated elements, and the volume of the saturated subsurface underground, including porosity, permeability, depth, and thickness of water-bearing formations.

The following questions, focusing initially on California, will be addressed:

1) What is the total volume and location of groundwater in California?
2) Salinity and contaminant profiles and how much water is potable or economically treatable?
3) What are the largest uncertainties in groundwater quantity and quality across the state? 

The resulting interactive mobile applications will display the results of the study utilizing the latest techniques in secure access to very large data sets and “augmented reality” combining GPS tracking, animation and real-time data overlays.