Extreme Weather Can Bring Enough Water to Recharge California’s Aquifers

(p. A15) After a long, dry summer, winter has brought the gift of water to California, via a series of atmospheric river storms. Unfortunately, as these sprawling rivers in the sky have met developed areas covered with concrete and rivers locked in by levees, they have brought destruction: floods, mudslides, washed-out roads, blackouts, uprooted trees and at least six deaths.

But California doesn’t have to passively suffer through the whiplash of drought and floods. To reduce risk from both, it can return some of its land to water, working with natural systems.

One way to do this is by making use of unique geologic features called paleo valleys. These buried canyons carved into the state’s Central Valley were formed by Ice Age rivers that flowed down the western flank of the Sierra Nevada and were later filled in with coarse sand and gravel from glacial melt.

. . .

There is enough unmanaged surface water from rain and snow statewide to resupply Central Valley aquifers, making more water available to farmers, urban dwellers and the environment. Even with climate change, the state will most likely have enough water for recharge in the future in part because of more extreme weather, according to a 2021 study.

For the full commentary, see:

Erica Gies. “California Should Capture Its Floodwaters.” The New York Times (Monday, January 9, 2023): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Jan. 7, 2023, and has the title “California Could Capture Its Destructive Floodwaters to Fight Drought.”)

The 2021 study mentioned above is:

He, Xiaogang, Benjamin P. Bryant, Tara Moran, Katharine J. Mach, Zhongwang Wei, and David L. Freyberg. “Climate-Informed Hydrologic Modeling and Policy Typology to Guide Managed Aquifer Recharge.” Science Advances 7, no. 17 (April 21, 2021), doi:10.1126/sciadv.abe6025.

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