Big data promises better groundwater management in California

The guidelines for groundwater management do not take into account sustainable sources. Big data is promising to change this in California.

A McGill University-led research team has analyzed big data of more than 200,000 groundwater samples taken from across the state and found that there are problems with the guidelines used for groundwater management.

Known as the ‘Base of Fresh Water’, the guidelines are close to fifty years old and don’t reflect current uses, knowledge, concerns or technologies related to managing groundwater in this coastal state with a multi-billion-dollar agricultural industry, according to a statement.

The research shows that existing groundwater wells already penetrate and encroach upon the bases of fresh water that are used to define basin bottoms. In addition, brackish waters exist within current groundwater basins, and fresh water exists outside delineated groundwater basins.

Brackish water, which was once deemed unusable, can now be used, thanks to technological advances.

Co-author Debra Perrone said: “We show that the current approach used to manage deep groundwater in some places may risk overlooking the complex realities pertaining to both groundwater salinity and groundwater users. For example, the data suggest that people are constructing groundwater wells deeper than the base of fresh water in some areas.”

Co-author Melissa Rohde added: “With technological advances, brackish water is now usable and increasingly desirable with declining access to fresh water. By excluding brackish groundwater from sustainable groundwater management, we run the risk of undermining SGMA and overexploiting this important public resource.”

Photo credit: IWMI Flickr Photos/ Flickr Creative Commons

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