Monday, July 25, 2016

2016 Dead Zone

The recentlyreleased 2016 NOAA-funded forecast calls for an about average dead zone in theChesapeake Bay this summer. Scientists are predicting that the dead zone in the nation's largest estuary will cover a volume of 1.58 cubic miles, just about the long term average since 1950. The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and University of Michigan scientists who developed the model that forecast the: midsummer low-oxygen hypoxic zone, early-summer oxygen-free anoxic zone, and late-summer oxygen-free anoxic zone that we call the dead zone.  The scientists to the cool and relatively dry spring in Pennsylvania followed by late arriving rains the same thing that happened in 2013 and 2015. The spring load of nutrients into the bay was light and locked in a lighter load of nutrients in the water layers within the Chesapeake Bay for the summer.

The forecast is based to a large extent on the quantity and timing of rainfall in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but there is hope that this also reflects that the overall condition of the bay may be improving in response to the mandated U.S. Environmental Protection Agency TMDL coordinated by the Chesapeake Bay Program. "There has been a recent trend toward less hypoxia later in the summer that may signal an emerging response to actual reductions in nutrient pollution," said Donald Boesch, Ph.D., president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. It is difficult to know if this is the proof that the Watershed improvement plans are working.
The predicted “dead zone” size is based on models that forecast the zone based on midsummer volume of the low-oxygen hypoxic zone, early-summer oxygen-free anoxic zone, and late-summer oxygen-free anoxic zone. The models were developed by NOAA-sponsored research at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the University ofMichigan. They rely on nutrient loading estimates supplied by the U. S. Geological Survey. USGS provides nutrient runoff and river stream data used in the forecast models. USGS estimates that the Susquehanna River delivered 66.2 million pounds of nitrogen to the Bay from January to May 2016, which is 17% below average.

Later this year researchers will measure oxygen levels in the Chesapeake Bay. The model forecasts are then combined with the oxygen measurements taken during summer monitoring cruises to improve our understanding of how nutrients, hydrology, and other factors affect the size of the hypoxic zone. Improved understanding will result in improved the models which are used in turn to develop effective strategies for reducing dead zones.

Dead zones have become a yearly occurrence in the Chesapeake Bay and other estuaries. Dead zones form in summers when higher temperatures reduce the oxygen holding capacity of the water, the air is still and especially in years of heavy rains that carry excess nutrient pollution from cities and farms. The excess nutrient pollution combined with mild weather encourages the explosive growth of phytoplankton, which is a single-celled algae. While the phytoplankton produces oxygen during photosynthesis, when there is excessive growth of algae the light is chocked out and the algae die and fall from the warmer fresh water into the colder sea water. The phytoplankton is decomposed by bacteria, which consumes the already depleted oxygen in the lower salt level, leaving dead oysters, clams, fish and crabs in their wake.

In a wedge shaped estuary such as Chesapeake Bay where the layers of fresh and salt water are not well mixed, there are several sources of dissolved oxygen. The most important is the atmosphere. At sea level, air contains about 21% oxygen, while the Bay’s waters contain only a small fraction of a percent. This large difference between the amount of oxygen results in oxygen naturally dissolving into the water. This process is further enhanced by the wind, which mixes the surface of the water. The other important sources of oxygen in the water are phytoplankton and aquatic grasses which produce oxygen during photosynthesis, but when they die consume oxygen during decomposition by bacteria. Finally, dissolved oxygen flows into the Bay with the water coming from streams, rivers, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Off to Ban HFC to fight Climate Change

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy and Secretary of State John Kerry are off to Vienna as leaders of the U.S. delegation to the “Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol,” which will take place July 22-23 2016 in Vienna, Austria. The U.S. delegation also includes representatives from the White House, Department of State, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Agriculture.

The Montreal Protocol, agreed to in 1987, forced the phase-out of ozone-depleting gases chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and later hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). However now the Extraordinary Meeting of the Parties is being held to negotiate the phase out of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) that have replaced CFCs and HCFCs. HFCs which are used in air conditioning systems are a greenhouse gas. Though they do not deplete the ozone layer they are a powerful greenhouse gas and are believed to contribute to climate change, specifically the warming of the planet.

In the 1980’s when Scientists identified and documented the growing hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica, the nations were alarmed. Then the NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory postulated the mechanism that created the Antarctic ozone hole. According to their work, the hole in the ozone was created by a reaction of ozone and chlorofluorocarbons free radicals on the surface of ice particles in the high altitude clouds that form over Antarctica.

The nations met and finally were able to negotiate the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer to protect the stratospheric ozone layer by phasing out the manufacture and use of ozone-depleting substances. The Montreal Protocol was ratified by all nations and is always cited as the most successful multilateral environmental treaty to-date. Recent work by some of the same scientists has concluded that the ozone hole is shrinking. The goal of the upcoming meeting in Vienna is to amend the treaty to ban HFC (hydrofluorocarbons), too, though the final phase out of all HCFC’s is not completed.

According to a report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are now one of the fastest growing greenhouse gases, with atmospheric concentrations growing every year. According to climate scientists, HFC used in the air conditioning and refrigeration industry have global warming potentials thousands of times greater than CO2, though their current impact is limited. Air conditioner sales in many emerging high population economies such as Brazil, India, and Indonesia are growing at 10-15% per year. Scientists now believe that it is essential to phase out HFCs and Methane (natural gas) to mitigate climate change. Phasing out HFCs and Methane offers faster climate change mitigation than control of CO2 alone.

I question whether the Montreal Protocol be used for this purpose. The Paris Climate Accord signed this past spring, lacks any clear path on how the nations will maintain global temperatures within 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. There are only “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and no mandated cuts. The CO2 emissions reduction pledges of the accord are voluntary. The White House pushed for keeping the coun­tries’ in­di­vidu­al cli­mate pledges voluntary and not binding to sidestep the need for any new rat­i­fic­a­tion of the agreement by the Sen­ate. In 1992 the senate ratified the United Na­tions Framework Convention on Climate Change that re­quired its parties set na­tion­al strategies to re­duce green­house-gas emis­sions and co­oper­ate in fu­ture talks to pre­pare for the im­pacts of cli­mate change. The George H.W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion said at the time that any “pro­tocol or amend­ment” that set bind­ing green­house-gas-re­duc­tion tar­gets would have to go through the Sen­ate.

The Lawrence Berkelyey National Laboratory estimates that by banning HFC there would be a cumulative savings up to 98 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent emission by 2050. Using the Montreal Protocol to accomplish this would also sidestep the need for ratification of the agreement by the Senate.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Well Water Problems- The Hot Water Smells and is Oily

Regularly, I receive questions about people’s wells through my blog. Recently I received the following question:

Our well water great then all of a sudden for the past month we get this smell from our water (only the hot water) and it leave an oily texture on our skin and also has this foul smell. We tried cleaning the hot water tank and that did nothing. Don't know what else to do!

Often there are limits to how helpful I can be to questioners because there is not enough information, but this sounds like hydrogen reducing bacteria have taken up residence in the hot water heater. There is an easy fix for this.

First a little background. Hydrogen Sulfide gas (H2S) with its characteristic “rotten egg” taste and smell can actually be detected as an off smell at 0.5 parts per million (ppm) by most people. At less than 1 ppm, hydrogen sulfide will give water a musty odor. At 1 to 2 ppm, it will have an odor similar to rotten eggs. Levels encountered in private wells are usually less than 10 ppm, because high levels of gas will not remain in solution in the water. Though toxic at 800 parts per million, Hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air and can accumulate in pits and basements and can potentially create a health and explosive hazard (though the smell might kill you first).

Hydrogen sulfide can end up in your tap water by four different routes. (1) It can occur naturally in groundwater especially in oil rich shale and coal seams. (2) It can be produced within the well or plumbing systems by sulfur reducing bacteria (bacteria that essentially eat sulfate in areas that have a high natural level of sulfate in the rocks. These anaerobic bacteria occur naturally in decaying plant material and soil and many areas in the nation have high natural levels of sulfate in the groundwater. (3) Hydrogen sulfide can form in hot water heater by either supplying a pleasant environment for the sulfate reducing bacteria to thrive or the energy for the magnesium rod intended to prevent corrosion of the heating tank to react with the sulfate naturally occurring in the water. (4) Finally, there are instances where the hydrogen sulfide gas is due to contamination of the well with septic waste.

Back to the problem at hand. Because hydrogen sulfate is so easily smelled by the typical human being, smell alone is enough to identify the problem. Also the description of the water as feeling oily is enough to identify the sulfur reducing bacteria. These are the classic symptoms of sulfur reducing bacteria creating hydrogen sulfate in the hot water heater. Though, I would have describe the feel of the water as slimy (after all I know what’s in it), the questioner’s description is classic for this problem.

If the smell is only from the hot water faucet and not from the cold water, then the problem is in the hot water heater. It is either sulfate reacting with the magnesium anode rod, or sulfur reducing bacteria (flourishing) in the hot water tank. The description of the water as oily would indicate the problem is sulfur reducing bacteria flourishing in the hot water heater. The reason that cleaning the hot water tank did not work is that the reducing bacteria were probably originating in the well and the water has naturally high levels of sulfur.

There is no standard test for sulfur reducing bacteria, so without the feel of oil it is often difficult to differentiate between a bacteria problem and something that might be solely sulfate reacting with the magnesium rod in the tank beyond the feel of the water. Also, hard water and certain soaps can leave a residue easily confused with the feel of reducing bacteria in the water. Thus, it is generally best to treat the hot water tank for both sulfate reducing bacteria and for the magnesium rod reacting with the sulfate naturally occurring in the water. It is a good idea to chlorine shock the hot water heater to kill the bacteria then flush it. But first start by raising the temperature in the hot water heater to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for three hours or more. This will generally kill the sulfur reducing bacteria. Hot water tanks use a lot of energy to keep the water hot, and we have all been advised to lower the temperature on the tank to 140 degrees Fahrenheit to save energy. Unfortunately, that is a temperature at which reducing bacteria thrive. So, pump the heat all the way up and kill the bacteria.

At this point you might want to flush the hot water heater a couple of times and let it heat back up and see if the problem is gone. Even if this works, the cure probably won’t last. It is likely that the iron bacteria are being introduced from the well, but keeping your hot water heater at 160 degrees will constantly kill the bacteria. If you do not want to keep your hot water heater set so high, then move on to disinfecting the hot water heater and replacing the anode rod and know that you will have to regularly disinfect the hot water tank. I dealt with a similar problem by disinfecting the hot water tank then simply keeping the hot water very hot. I bought an insulated cover for the tank to cut down on the power usage.

It is not very hard to disinfect a hot water tank, but unless you are very familiar with operations and maintenance of hot water heaters, you should call a plumber. Either turn off the hot water heater if it is electric or put it on pilot if it is gas and drain off a few gallons of water after you close the cold-water inlet valve. Make sure that you have drained off at least a few gallons and pour a half gallon of household bleach (5.25% hypochlorite) mixed with water into the tank. The best way to get the bleach into the tank is to use a funnel and either the temperature and pressure valve opening, anode rod opening, or hot water outlet pipe opening to pour the chlorine into the hot water heater. Let the chlorine sit in the tank for at least two hours. Then open the cold-water inlet valve, drain the hot water heater and turn the heat back up. If the problem is sulfate reacting with the magnesium anode (corrosion protection rod), it can be replaced with an aluminum rod that is not as reactive as the magnesium and may still serve to protect the metal components of the tank from corrosion. Most hot water tanks take a standard size anode rod and there are aluminum replacements available from several manufacturers. Generally, you should check the condition of the anode rod when you pour the bleach into the tank. Be aware that some high end tanks have two anode rods and replacing just one with aluminum will not solve the problem because the remaining magnesium rod will continue to react with the sulfate.

For instructions on how to identify the source of your hydrogen sulfate problem and solve it see Hydrogen Sulfide-the Rotten Egg Smell in Well Water.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Ozone Hole is Shrinking


In a recent paper “Emergence of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer,” published in Science by Susan Solomon (MIT), Diane J. Ivy (MIT), Doug Kinnison (National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO), Michael J. Mills (National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO), Ryan R. Neely III (University of Leeds) and Anja Schmidt (University of Leeds). Using a 3D model of the atmosphere the team of scientists found that the September ozone hole has shrunk by more than 4 million square kilometers since 2000, when ozone depletion was at its peak.
the ozone hole in 2016 July from NASA


In 2015, the ozone hole reached a record size, despite the fact that atmospheric chlorine continued to drop. In response, scientists had questioned whether any healing could be determined. Using their model and reviewing the data, Dr. Solomon and the other scientists determined that the 2015 spike in ozone depletion could be attributed to the eruption of the Chilean volcano. While volcanoes don’t release significant amounts of chlorine into the stratosphere, they do increase small particles, which, in turn, increase the amount of polar stratospheric clouds with which chlorine reacts.

Solomon and the other scientists believed they would get a clearer picture of chlorine’s effects by looking at ozone levels in September, when cold winter temperatures still prevail at Antartica and the ozone hole is just opening up. The team showed that as the chlorine has decreased, the rate at which the hole opens has slowed down. The researchers tracked the yearly opening of the Antarctic ozone hole in the month of September, from 2000 to 2015. They analyzed ozone measurements taken from weather balloons and satellites, as well as satellite measurements of sulfur dioxide emitted by volcanoes, which can also enhance ozone depletion. And, they tracked meteorological changes, such as temperature and wind, which can impact the ozone hole.

Dr. Solomon felt this study was proof that the U.N. Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to protect the ozone layer by regulating chloroflurocarbons had been effective in impacting the planet. Earlier work, by Dr. Solomon and colleagues when she was at the NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory postulated the mechanism that created the Antarctic ozone hole. According to their work it was created by a reaction of ozone and chlorofluorocarbons free radicals on the surface of ice particles in the high altitude clouds that form over Antarctica.

In 1986 and 1987 Solomon led the National Ozone Expedition where the team gathered the evidence to confirm the accelerated reactions. The team, Susan Solomon, Rolando R. Garcia, F. Sherwood Rowland & Donald J. Wuebbles published, “On the depletion of Antarctic ozone.” In the 1980’s this was groundbreaking at the time and formed the basis of the Montreal Protocol that ultimately banned chloroflurocarbons.

Ozone is a gas made up of three oxygen atoms (O3). It occurs naturally in small (trace) amounts in the upper atmosphere (the stratosphere). Ozone protects life on Earth from the Sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. In the lower atmosphere (the troposphere) near the Earth’s surface, ozone is created by chemical reactions between air pollutants from vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and other emissions. At ground level, high concentrations of ozone are toxic to people and plants. However, 90% of the ozone in the atmosphere sits in the stratosphere, the layer of atmosphere between about 10 and 50 kilometers above ground. The natural level of ozone in the stratosphere is a result of a balance between sunlight that creates ozone and chemical reactions that destroy it.

Still, Dr. Solomon’s findings are puzzling to other scientists. The 3D model they developed founding that only half of the 4 million square kilometer shrinkage in the ozone hole was due to the reduction in chlorine and bromine in the atmosphere. The other half appeared to be due to weather. Weather effects should not create a trend, they should be random over time and cancel each other out. This could be an indication of weather shift due to climate change, but climate change should not be visible on so small a time scale.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Conversations about Wells Going Dry

Regularly, I receive questions about people’s wells through my blog. If you send your email address I will try to be helpful, but there are limits because often there is not enough information.I received the following question: 

I just came across your blog and had a question for you.. We just bought our home and have been here almost two weeks, last night we had no water and this morning we do. Does that mean our well is running dry?  We've never had well water, so we're lost.”

I responded that it could, indeed, mean that their well is running dry; but it could also mean that you overused the well. Let's get some more details. How old is the well? What type of well is it and how deep is the well? Where are you? Do you have the well completion report? Did you test the well recharge rate when you bought the house? How much water did you use yesterday (showers, laundry, watering the lawn)? Please send me all the details you have and let's see if we can figure this out. 
Honestly, I don't know the answers to those questions. I do know a lot of water was used yesterday, between everyone taking showers and my son out watering. I also did a lot of laundry. My son went and checked the holding tank, and I guess it had 300 gallons in there this morning. We live in San Tan Valley, AZ.”

That is very little information, it is important when you buy a house with a well, that you gather more information on the well and local ground water conditions. They live in southeast Arizona and the well has limited enough flow that the system has a holding tank. These type of holding tanks (sometimes called cisterns) are used with low flow wells that need to store all the water the well can produce in a 24 hour period. Also, a quick look at theDrought Monitor told me that region of Arizona is in drought conditions. Checking with the state department of water they say “Winter precipitation this year was well below average for an El NiƱo winter. The winter season had a strong start in November through January, then the storms stopped coming into Arizona. Most of the storms that crossed Utah brushed by northern Arizona, but left central and southern Arizona quite dry.”

               In general watering is inadvisable in a desert when you have a well especially when in long periods of drought. Groundwater is found in aquifers below the surface of the Earth. This water supplies all wells- private, public and irrigation. The amount of groundwater that can be sustainably used is determined by the amount of rain and snow melt that recharges the groundwater each year and the storage capacity of the geology for variation between wet and dry years. Nature determines the amount of water that is available- geology, weather and climate. The cistern filling to 300 gallons overnight is an indication of how much water you will have available to use. During dry periods, there is little rainfall to refill the groundwater, but water use continues. Not too surprisingly, during a drought, and the dryer parts of the year the groundwater level will fall. Clearly, with 300 gallons recharging the cistern the well is not dry, but it is a low producing well. You might want to contact the Arizona Department of Water Resources and find out what records might exist for your well. Current Arizona regulations require the well driller complete a well driller’s report, including a well log. The information required includes:
  • depth of the well
  • depth to the water
  • type and size of casing, and
  •  kind of material used in well construction 
  • the well yield test determines the quantity of water your well can produce

Based on generating 300 gallons overnight the current yield on your well is less than a gallon a minute. If this rate remains steady and not falling any further it is enough to run a household using conservation, but clearly inadequate to water your yard.

               Over time the amount of water a well produces can decrease. Sometimes that is because the water table is dropping. Other times it can be caused by the plugging of holes in the well casing, mineral encrustation of the well screen or the filling of openings in the geologic formation around the well from which water flows as discussed above. The pump performance could also be impaired by a damaged motor or impeller. Depending on what the problem is sometimes this can be fixed. The solution cannot be properly identified until the cause of the problem is identified. A well check-up should be performed regularly and whenever a problem is noticed. This check-up should include four components. First, is a flow test to determine system output, along with a check of the water level before and during pumping (if possible). Second is to check pump motor performance (check amp load, grounding, and line voltage), pressure tank and pressure switch contact, and general water appearance. (This will not necessarily identify a pump that is going to fail shortly). Next, is an inspection of well equipment to assure that it is sanitary and meets local code requirements. Third, a test of your water for coliform bacteria and nitrates, and anything else of local concern should be performed. These tests while not exhaustive, should allow you to differentiate between a pump problem, well/water supply problem, and other system problems.

               In the meantime you need to live within your water budget. You only have the water available to you that your well is generating. There are tremendous differences in water consumption of appliances and fixtures based on their age and design. For example low-flush toilets which use 1.6 gallons per flush versus 5 gallons per flush for the older toilets. According to the 2001 Handbook of Water Use and Conservation by A. Vickers and published by WaterPlow Press in Amherst, MA the average person flushes the toilet 5.1 times a day. Before the advent of low flush toilet, flushing was the largest use of water for each person. If you have new toilets your daily water use for flushing would be 8.2 gallons versus 25.5 gallons for an older toilet. Compressor assisted toilets (commonly used in highway rest stops) only use 0.5 gallons of water and if widely adopted could reduce flushing use of water to 2.6 gallons per day per person. Other toilets that have separate flush cycles for fluid can also save water, and of course there is the California strategy of not flushing after only urinating to minimize the daily number of flushes. Changing your toilets and flushing behavior turns out to be the single most effective water conservation strategy a household can implement. Thank goodness, there are now powerful flushing low flow toilets.

               The typical American uses the most water (indoors) for flushing, showering, washing hands and brushing teeth, and laundry. Buying water efficient appliances and fixtures and changing behavior can significantly reduce our water use. For bathing and brushing teeth low flow faucets and showerheads and behavior modification (not running the water while you brush your teeth, shorter showers or not running the water while you lather up can save about a third of the water typically used for personal hygiene, reducing the typical 28 gallons a day to 19 gallons a day. Laundry is the second largest use of water after toilets. Try not to do more than one load of laundry a day.  A top loading washing machine uses 43-51 gallons per load while a full size front load machine uses 27 gallons per load and some machines have low volume cycles for small loads that use less. Replacing a top load washing machine with a front load machine saves 6-9 gallons of water per person per day or 24 gallons per load of laundry. A standard dishwasher uses 7-14 gallons per load while a water efficient dishwasher uses 4.5 gallons per load.

The most water used in dessert environments is for outdoor watering. A hose typically runs at 3 gallons or so a minute. Eliminating the watering of your ornamental garden would significantly reduce water use especially in Arizona. You need to have desert landscaping or to only water plants very selectively. Be mindful of your water use and it possible to live with a well producing about a half a gallon a minute with a large household for years without any problems, 
Best,

Elizabeth Ward

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Farm to Table Dinner in Haymarket




On September 8th 2016. the Prince William Soil & Water Conservation District is having a Farm to Table fund raising dinner to benefit the Prince William Environmental Excellence Foundation our 501 (c) 3 that supports our children’s, education, and outreach programs. We will hold our inaugural “Farm to Table” dinner that is being sourced and made in Prince William County.

The dinner will be at Evergreen Country Club in Haymarket, Virginia. Starting at 6 p.m. you will have an opportunity to meet our local farmers who are donating and providing the ingredients, learn about the agriculture and viticulture right here in Prince William County. Then all are invited to participate in the wine tasting sponsored by La Grange winery in Haymarket, and tour the newly renovated Manor House at Evergreen Country Club before the gourmet meal prepared by chef, Travis Simmons in the ballroom in the Evergreen Club house.

All profits from this event will go to the Prince William Environmental Excellence Foundation to support our environmental and agricultural education programs including our annual “Farm Field Days” program held every year in October. Since its inception, 27 years ago, Farm Field Days has had more than 28,000 fourth grade students spend the day learning about agriculture (actually seeing farm animals), environmental science and natural resources conservation.

Pease support this wonderful event for the future of conservation by buying a ticket and joining us for an evening out by purchasing a ticket to the event. Prices are $85/ticket or $160/couple. Sponsor tables are also available for $600. If you are unable to join us, you can also donate to Prince William Environmental Excellence Foundation, a 501 (c) 3. Tickets can be purchased from the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District, 8850 Rixlew Lane, Manassas, VA 20109. If you would like more information contact Mike Miller at (571) 379-7514 or conservation@pwswcd.org.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Newly Identified Deep Groundwater in California

In a new article, “Salinity of deep groundwater in California: Water quantity, quality, and protection,” Stanford researchers, Robert Jackson and Mary Kang used data from 938 oil and gas pools and more than 35,000 oil and gas wells to characterize and estimate both shallow and deep groundwater sources in eight California counties. The article was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the June 27th issue and for the first time tried to use newer data to examine the groundwater within deeper aquifers.
from Jackson and Kang
Previous estimates of groundwater in California are based on data that are decades old and only estimated groundwater resources down a few hundred feet, though Californians have begun tapping the groundwater down below 1,000 feet below grade. The utilization of the deeper aquifer is unknown because the State Water Resources Control Board Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment Program does not have or make available the well depth data for the 200,000 wells it has water quality data for. Until now, little was known about the amount and quality of water within deeper aquifers. Drs. Jackson and Kang concluded that when deeper sources of groundwater are factored in, the amount of usable groundwater in the Central Valley increases to 2,700 cubic kilometers, triple the state’s current estimates.

While this is good news for California, the findings do not solve California’s water problems. First, much of the water is 1,000 - 3,000 feet or deeper below grade, so pumping it will be more expensive. Without proper management, tapping these deeper aquifers might also exacerbate the subsidence, the sinking of the land, that is has been happening throughout the Central Valley. Groundwater pumping from shallow aquifers has already caused some regions to drop by more than 75 feet. Secondly, groundwater salinity increases with depth and some of the deep aquifer water is as expected, higher in salt concentration than shallower groundwater, so desalination or other treatment will be necessary before it can be used for either drinking or irrigation for agriculture in the state.

The scientists used data from oil and gas production provided by the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) that contained information on formation water salinity and total dissolved solids, TDS, from oil and gas pools and records of wells drilled to depths of a several thousand meters. A concern that the Stanford scientists point out is that oil and gas drilling activities are occurring directly into as much as 30 % of the sites where the deep groundwater resources are located. In Kern County near Bakersfield where much of California’s oil and gas industry is centered, one of every six oil and gas wells was drilled directly into freshwater aquifers. For potentially useable water, water that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems drinkable if treated, the number was one in three.

As Dr. Jackson points out in the linked video, the oil and gas industry is the only industry that is allowed to inject chemicals directly into potential drinking water sources. The more we learn about the fate of these chemicals, the greater the concern. With California in its fifth year of drought and the growing need for water in California, we need to reconsider these practices. We need to better characterize and protect deep groundwater aquifers not only in California but in other parched regions where these water resources will be needed before too long.