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Significant groundwater loss in California's Central Valley during recent droughts

May 19 2017 9:44PM by news NewsYouShare  |  ENN

A new study from researchers at UCLA and the University of Houston reveals estimates of significant groundwater loss in California’s Central Valley during the recent drought and sparks questions of sustainability for the important agricultural area.

Researchers tracked net groundwater consumption in the Central Valley from 2002 to 2016, when a drought from 2007 to 2009 and a more severe drought from 2012 to 2016 hit the area. Published in Geophysical Research Letters, their findings estimate that a total of 16.5 cubic kilometers (4 cubic miles) and 40 cubic kilometers (9.6 cubic miles) of water were lost during between the 2007-2009 and 2012-2016 droughts, respectively.

The more recent drought accounted for more than 10 cubic kilometers (2.4 cubic miles) of water lost per year. Researchers attributed this to reduced precipitation and snow melt, a change in the type of crops being cultivated, and hotter temperatures.

“For perspective, the amount of material associated with the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens was about one cubic kilometer,” said Dennis Lettenmaier, the UCLA professor of geography who led the study. “So, we’re talking about 40 times that amount in the recent drought.”
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