Santa Clara County’s Groundwater back to Pre-Drought Levels
Santa Clara County’s groundwater, which provides nearly half the drinking water every year for about 2 million people, fell by up to 60 feet during the state’s recent historic drought due to heavy pumping. The vast underground basins have filled back up to the levels where they were before the drought started in 2011, which experts say was driven by heavy winter rains and strict water conservation rules during the drought that eased the need for pumping. Estelle Chaussard, an assistant professor of geology at the University at Buffalo who led the study, analyzed data from four Italian satellites to measured tiny changes in the surface levels of the ground in Santa Clara County during California’s five-year drought. Chaussard found that as groundwater levels plummeted during 2013 and 2014, the ground itself fell as the amount of water underneath it was depleted, a phenomenon known as subsidence. Chaussard states,
People did an amazing job at conserving water during the drought. The entire aquifer recovered.
The ground level began to slowly rebound in 2015, Chaussard’s research showed, as more water underground essentially pushed it back into place. In 2015, Santa Clara County residents were able to reduce water use 27 percent overall from 2013 levels. The El Niño storms brought normal rainfall to Northern California in the winter of 2015-16 and Santa Clara County’s aquifers continued to recover. By 2017, the wettest winter in 20 years caused downpours and floods, which put the groundwater back to pre-drought levels, the district’s wells showed. Santa Clara County has a long history of groundwater struggles and it is great to hear that some of those issues are being resolved.