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Turns Out California Has More Water Than We Thought

There's more water somewhere under there. (Photo by benketaro via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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Where can we find more water? Go deeper underground, says a team of researchers.

Scientists from Stanford looked into deep underground aquifers—which are permeable, water-bearing rocks— and found that there was three times more water than previously expected, reports Capital Public Radio. And if saline water was included, there would be four times more water than estimated. Their research—which focused on the Central Valley region—was presented on Monday.

Specifically, scientists believe there are about two billion acre-feet of fresh water to be found underground in the Central Valley—enough for them to characterize it as a "water windfall." As noted by Capital Public Radio, one acre-foot is usually enough to sustain a California household for the entire year.

The research on deep, underground aquifers is lacking. Prior to the Stanford team’s findings, much of the available data was decades-old, and the majority of the research didn't go deeper than 1,000 feet underground, reports

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But there's a catch (of course). As the report notes, water salinity typically rises the deeper you go underground. Desalination efforts would be required to make a lot of that Central Valley water usable. This, in turn, raises the cost of the water. Furthermore, water in underground aquifers could be more vulnerable to contamination from the oil and gas industries. In fact, the scientists found that oil and gas drilling took place on as much as 30 percent of the groundwater sites they were researching.

But researchers noted that "States, such as Texas and Florida, and countries, including China and Australia, are already desalinating brackish water to meet their growing water demands" and remained optimistic that underground aquifers could be a resource for California in the future.

California, as you may have heard, is in the grips of a historical drought. In May, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order that made number of temporary water conservation measures—like prohibiting the hosing-off of sidewalks—permanent.

And it looks like our conservation initiatives have been paying off. Thanks to our water-conscious efforts, we'll be OK even if the drought lasts another three years, says the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.