The deceptively simple plan to replenish California’s groundwater
The state pumps too much groundwater, especially during droughts. Now, it’s learning to refill the overdrawn bucket. “It’s the simplest math in the world,” says one scientist.
BY ALEJANDRA BORUNDA
PARLIER, CALIFORNIAFrom afar, the rows of knobby grapevines blend into the landscape of pink-blossomed almond trees and fragrant citrus. But get up close and you’ll see something strange: The trunks of the vines are standing in several inches of glistening, precious water.
These grapes, at the Kearney Agricultural Research Center in California’s San Joaquin Valley, are part of a grand experiment that many hope will help solve the state’s deepening water crisis. Here, in the state that provides some 40 percent of all the fresh produce grown in the United States, a 20-year-long drought has left growers and communities desperately short of water. To make up the persistent shortfall from rain and snow, they are pumping groundwater—and doing so far faster than water can trickle down from the surface to replenish underground aquifers.
The drought has only amplified an old problem: Californians have been overusing groundwater for a century, in part because it was unregulated. That changed in 2014 with the passage of a landmark state law requiring local water agencies to control the overdraft by 2040. They’re now scrounging for solutions.