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Satellites Show 'Total' California Water Storage at Near-Decade Low

Advisory from UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling finds statewide averages of snow, surface water and soil moisture near 10-year lows. Threat of multi-year epoch of unsustainable groundwater depletion imminent if drought continues.
 
Irvine, Calif., Feb. 3, 2014 – Updates to satellite data show that California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins are at near decade-low water storage levels.  These and other findings on the State’s dwindling water resources were documented in an advisory report released today from the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling (UCCHM) at the University of California, Irvine. 
 
Responding to Governor Jerry Brown’s recent declaration of a drought emergency in California, a team of UCCHM researchers has updated its research on the state’s two largest river basins, and the source of most its water. The region also encompasses the Central Valley, the most productive agriculture region in the country. The Central Valley depends entirely on the surface and groundwater resources within the river basins to meet its irrigation needs and to produce food for the nation. 
 
Using satellite data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission, the researchers, led by UCCHM Director and UC Irvine Professor Jay Famiglietti, found that as of November 2013, total water storage in the river basins -- the combination of all of the snow, surface water, soil moisture and groundwater, and an integrated measure of basin-wide water availability -- had declined to its lowest point in nearly a decade.  GRACE data for the record-dry 2013-2014 winter months were not yet available for analysis.
 
The data show particularly steep water losses between November 2011 and November 2013, the early phase of the current drought.  Famiglietti and fellow UCCHM researchers estimate that the basins have already lost 10 cubic kilometers of fresh water in each of the last two years -- equivalent to virtually all of California’s urban and household water use each year.  "That’s the steepest decline in total water storage that we’ve seen in California since the GRACE mission was launched in 2002," Famiglietti said.
 
The researchers noted that snowpack, surface water and soil moisture storage in the river basins were all at their lowest points in nearly a decade, illustrating a growing threat to groundwater supplies in the Central Valley, and highlighting the urgent need to manage them sustainably. Groundwater is typically viewed as a strategic reserve that supplements sparse surface water supplies in times of drought.  
 
By combining their satellite-based estimates of 10 years (October 2003 – November 2013) of Central Valley groundwater storage changes with long-term estimates of groundwater losses from the U. S. Geological Survey, the researchers noted that steep declines in groundwater storage are typical during droughts, when Central Valley farmers are forced to rely more heavily on groundwater to meet irrigation demands.  
 
The advisory report underscores that the rates of declining groundwater storage during drought almost always outstrip rates of groundwater replenishment during wet periods, and raises fears about the impact of long-term groundwater depletion on sustaining a reliable water supply in the current, record-setting drought. The team’s previous 2011 study estimated that the Central Valley lost 20 cubic kilometers of groundwater during the 2006-2010 drought. 
 
Historically, drought conditions and groundwater depletion in the Central Valley are responsible for widespread land subsidence, reductions in planted acreage, higher food costs and ecological damage.
 
Famiglietti notes that if the drought continues "Central Valley groundwater levels will fall to all-time lows."  Stephanie Castle, a UCCHM researcher who contributed to the report, believes that groundwater supplies should be more actively managed. Castle states that "the path of groundwater use that we are on threatens the sustainability of future water supplies for all Californians."  She noted that several communities within the state are on track to run out of water within the next few months.
 
Download the report at http://www.ucchm.org/publications
 
 
 
Media Contacts:
Callie Brazil 
Communications & Outreach Coordinator
UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling
(949) 824-3068
 
Prof. Jay Famiglietti
Director
UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling
(949) 824-9434
 
About the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling:
The UCCHM is a University of California system-wide research center formed to address California, national and international water issues. Its mission is to develop state-of-the-art models, remote sensing analyses, data products and data management to support research and sustainable water management on both local and global levels. UCCHM findings inform state, regional, national and international leaders, and advise decision-makers at all levels, on the future of water availability. For more information, please visit www.ucchm.org.  Follow @TheUCCHM on Twitter, Facebook and at our blog site, Be Water, My Friend.
 
UCCHM Press Release #5: California Water Storage at Near-Decade Low
 


 
Governor Brown Appoints UC Irvine Professor to State Water Board
 
Prof. Jay Famiglietti selected for the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board 
 
Irvine, Calif., Jan. 7, 2014 – Jay Famiglietti, Professor of Earth System Science and of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Irvine, has been appointed to the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board by California Governor, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. 
 
Famiglietti heads the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling, where statewide and regional water data are collected and combined with satellite observations and state-of-the-art computer models to predict changing water availability in California. Famiglietti and his team recently made headlines for calling attention to the alarming rates of groundwater depletion occurring in California’s Central Valley.
 
Guided by the mission "to preserve, enhance and restore the quality of California’s water resources, and ensure their proper allocation and efficient use for the benefit of present and future generations," members of the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Board have made significant strides towards a sustainable water future for the Santa Ana region. 
 
Implementing the Watershed Management Initiative, improving pollution treatment standards and tightening water quality standards are just a few of the initiatives championed by the Board. The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Board faces unique challenges, as the region is geographically the smallest in California, yet has one of the state’s largest populations.
 
Famiglietti is a frequent advisor to state and federal water agencies and to the U. S. Congress. Recently he presented to the California State Board of Food and Agriculture on groundwater supply challenges.
 
Media Contact:
Callie Brazil 
Communications & Outreach Coordinator
UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling
p: (949) 824-3068
 
About the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling:
The UCCHM is a University of California system-wide research center formed to address California, national and international water issues. Its mission is to develop state-of-the-art models, remote sensing analyses, data products and data management to support research and sustainable water management on both local and global levels. UCCHM findings inform state, regional, national and international leaders, and advise decision-makers at all levels, on the future of water availability. For more information, please visit www.ucchm.org
 
For additional information about:
Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board: http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/santaana/
Full Office of Governor Brown Press Release: http://gov.ca.gov/news.php?id=18354
University of California, Irvine: http://www.uci.edu/
 
UCCHM Press Release #4: Governor Brown Appoints UC Irvine Professor to State Water Board
 

 

UC Irvine Professor Earns Groundwater Resources Association Honor
 
Dr. Jay Famiglietti named as speaker for the 2014 David Keith Todd Distinguished Lecture Series
 
Sacramento, Calif., Dec. 4, 2013 – The Groundwater Resources Association (GRA) has awarded Jay Famiglietti the lectureship for the David Keith Todd Distinguished Lecture Series for 2014.
 
The Groundwater Resources Association named two speakers to this honorary lectureship: Dr. Famiglietti and Mr. Carl Hauge, former Chief Hydrologeologist for the Department of Water Resources. Famiglietti’s lecture, entitled Water in the Balance: Observing Groundwater Depletion from Space, will speak to the importance of groundwater management and pioneering methods used to track freshwater movement on Earth. 
 
Famiglietti, professor of Earth System Science and Civil & Environmental Engineering at UC Irvine and founding Director of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling (UCCHM), served as the 2012 Birdsall-Dreiss Lecturer of the Geological Society of America. Famiglietti and his UCCHM team, known best for combining satellite data and computer models to track freshwater availability and groundwater depletion, also work to make groundwater findings and techniques accessible to the public. As a leading figure in the field of hydrology, Famiglietti has briefed California decision-makers, national and international leaders on global water issues.
 
The David Keith Todd Lecture Series was established four years ago to educate and encourage the understanding and application of groundwater assessment, protection and management. The lectureship, named in honor of Dr. David Keith Todd for his achievements in the field of groundwater science and technology, emphasizes the importance of science education. 
 
Famiglietti and Hauge will deliver a minimum of five lectures at academic institutions, GRA Branch Meetings, and the GRA’s Annual Conference and Meeting. 
 
Media Contact:
Callie Brazil 
Communications & Outreach Coordinator
UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling
p: (949) 824-3068
 
About the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling:
The UCCHM is a University of California system-wide research center formed to address California, national and international water issues. Its mission is to develop state-of-the-art models, remote sensing analyses, data products and data management to support research and sustainable water management on both local and global levels. UCCHM findings inform state, regional, national and international leaders, and advise decision-makers at all levels, on the future of water availability. For more information, please visit www.ucchm.org
 
For additional information about:
Dr. Jay Famiglietti: http://jayfamiglietti.com/
Groundwater Resources Association: http://www.grac.org/
University of California, Irvine: http://www.uci.edu/
Full description of David Keith Todd Distinguished Lecture Series: http://www.grac.org/dkt.asp
 
UCCHM Press Release #3: UC Irvine Professor Earns Groundwater Resources Association Honor
 


UC Irvine listed among America’s top 10 ‘Coolest Schools’ for Sustainability

UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling highlighted for Water for Peace Global Outreach Campaign

 
Irvine, Calif., Aug. 14, 2013Sierra magazine has ranked UC Irvine #3 in its seventh annual ranking of the “Coolest Schools” in America. The rankings, which grade and honor sustainability-conscious institutions across the nation, include UC Irvine among the top 10 “greenest” campuses in the country for the fourth year in a row.
 
Sierra, the Sierra Club’s official publication, ranked each institution in five categories: Education & Research, Operations, Planning, Administration & Engagement, Innovation and Supplemental. The UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling (UCCHM) played a major role in helping UC Irvine earn a perfect score in the ‘Innovation’ category.
 
UCCHM’s Water for Peace Global Outreach Campaign was noted as an innovative effort, along with several other energy and sustainability-focused UC Irvine programs and initiatives. The campaign was developed to address the critical need for more effective, sustainable water management practices across regional, national and international geo-political lines. Backed by satellite data provided by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), UCCHM Director Jay Famiglietti and the Center team use this information to pinpoint ‘hotspots of water stress’ on a global scale.
 
Water diplomacy trips by UCCHM researchers to regions designated as ‘hotspots’ help facilitate data exchanges and scientific collaborations in order to advance the discussion of regional water management issues and solutions. 
 
In February 2013, a delegation of UCCHM representatives and UC Irvine officials traveled to Israel, Palestine and Jordan on a water diplomacy visit, with the goal of using data and scholarly exchange to bring the issues of cooperation and water management to the forefront.  Previous trips have included visits to China, Turkey and Tunisia. A water diplomacy trip to East Africa is planned for October 2013.
 
Media Contact:
Callie Brazil 
Communications & Outreach Coordinator
UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling
p: (949) 824-3068
 
About the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling:
The UCCHM is a University of California system-wide research center formed to address California, national and international water issues. Its mission is to develop state-of-the-art models, remote sensing analyses, data products and data management to support research and sustainable water management on both local and global levels. UCCHM findings inform state, regional, national and international leaders, and advise decision-makers at all levels, on the future of water availability. For more information, please visit www.ucchm.org
 
For additional information about:
University of California, Irvine: http://www.uci.edu/
Complete list of ‘Coolest Schools’: http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/201309/coolschools/
 
UCCHM Press Release #2: UC Irvine listed among America’s top 10 ‘Coolest Schools’ for sustainability
 

 

 

Satellite data will be essential to future of groundwater, flood and drought management 

UC Irvine, NASA researchers demonstrate need for national water management policy with map of U.S. ‘hotspots’

Irvine, Calif., June 13, 2013 – New satellite imagery reveals that several areas across the United States are all but certain to suffer water-related catastrophes, including extreme flooding, drought and groundwater depletion.

The paper, to be published in Science this Friday, June 14, underscores the urgent need to address these current and rapidly emerging water issues at the national scale.

“We don’t recognize the dire water situation that we face here in the United States,” said lead author Jay Famiglietti, a professor of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine, and Director of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling (UCCHM).  Since its launch in 2002, Famiglietti and co-author Matt Rodell, Chief of the Hydrological Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, have been using data from the NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changing freshwater availability all over the world. 

“Worldwide, groundwater supplies about half of all drinking water, and it is also hugely important for agriculture, yet without GRACE we would have no routine, global measurements of changes in groundwater availability,” said Rodell. “Other satellites can’t do it, and ground-based monitoring is inadequate.”

The report, entitled Water in the Balance, draws attention to water management as a national, rather than just a regional or statewide problem. The GRACE mission is able to monitor monthly water storage changes within river basins and aquifers that are 200,000 km2 or larger in area, and, according to Famiglietti and Rodell, can contribute to water management at regional and national scales, and to international policy discussions as well. 

Using GRACE data, the researchers were able to identify several water ‘hotspots’ in the United States, including its key food producing regions in 1) California’s Central Valley, and 2) the southern High Plains aquifer; a broad swath of the southeastern U. S. that has been plagued by persistent drought, including 3) Houston, Texas, 4) Alabama, and 5) the Mid-Atlantic region; and 6) the flood-prone upper Missouri River basin.  They also noted that since 2003, the wetter, northern half of the U.S. has become wetter, while the drier, southern half has become drier. 

According to Famiglietti and Rodell, without coordinated and proactive management, the aquifers supplying the Central Valley and the southern High Plains with water for irrigation will deplete their groundwater reserves, perhaps within decades, putting the nation’s food supply at considerable risk. Meanwhile, if sufficient measures are not taken, the upper Missouri River basin will experience extensive flood damage.  The authors state that using GRACE, groundwater supplies can now be better managed, while the lead-time for flood and drought predictions could be substantially increased, potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars and countless lives in the process.

“GRACE data provide new insights into regions in the U.S. and around the world where water issues have already approached the crisis stage.  Their potential for game-changing contributions to regional water management is just beginning to be realized,” says Famiglietti, who believes that maps like his and Rodell’s make a strong case for immediate action, and ultimately, for a comprehensive, national water policy in the United States.  

The authors argue for greater investment to speed current GRACE data processing to ensure its availability for seasonal flood and drought forecasting, and for future gravity missions that can help water management even more than at present. 

“A future mission that could monitor water storage changes every week or two, rather than on a monthly basis, and for river basins and aquifers that are tens of thousands of square kilometers, rather than hundreds, would be ideal,” notes Rodell.  

According to USA Today, in 2012 flood damage from Hurricane Sandy and the Midwest/Great Plains drought cost the U.S. $100 billion.  The U. S. Geological Survey recently reported that since the beginning of the 20th century, enough groundwater has been depleted in the United States to fill Lake Erie twice.

Groundwater storage trends around the United States as measured by the NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites between 2003 and 2012. GRACE data show water losses in major U.S. agricultural regions such as (1) California’s Central Valley (-1.5 ± 0.1 centimeters, or -0.59 ± 0.04 inches, per year) and (2) the Southern High Plains Aquifer (-2.5 ± 0.2 centimeters, or -0.98 ± 0.08 inches, per year), caused by overreliance on groundwater to supply irrigation water. Regions where groundwater is being depleted as a result of prolonged drought include (3) Houston (-2.3 ± 0.6 centimeters, or -0.9 inches, per year), (4) Alabama (-2.1 ± 0.8 centimeters, or -0.83 inches, per year) and (5) the Mid-Atlantic (-1.8 ± 0.6 centimeters, or -0.71 inches, per year). Water storage is increasing in (6), the flood-prone Upper Missouri River basin (2.5 ± 0.2 centimeters, or 0.98 inches, per year). 
 
The graphs surrounding the main image are monthly time series of GRACE-derived anomalies of total water storage (in centimeter-equivalent water height) for the points annotated (1) – (6).  Monthly data are displayed as darker blue lines. Trend lines (in centimeters per year), in red, have been added to each time series plot.  Monthly errors are shown as light blue shading..
 
Data from University of Texas CSR Release-05 and prepared by Caroline de Linage, UC Irvine.
 
From J. S. Famiglietti and M. Rodell, Water in the Balance, Science, 340, 1300 (2013).  Figure appears as Figure S1 in Supplementary Online Materials, www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/science.1236460/DC1
Fig. S1

Media Contact:
Callie Brazil
Communications & Outreach Coordinator
UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling
e: brazilc@uci.edu
p: (949) 824-3068
 
For additional information about:
Science Magazine - Water in the Balance: 
http://www.sciencemag.org/content/340/6138/1300.full
Supplementary Materials: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/340/6138/1300/suppl/DC1

Special Note to Reporters:
A copy of the paper and supplementary online figure can be found at the Science press package at http://www.eurekalert.org/jrnls/sci. You will need your user ID and password to access this information.

About the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling
The UCCHM is a University of California system-wide research center formed to address California’s water issues. Its mission is to develop state-of-the-art models, remote sensing analyses, data products and data management to support research and sustainable water management for California and the west.  UCCHM findings inform state, regional, national and international leaders, and advise decision-makers at all levels, on the future of water availability. For more information, please visit www.ucchm.org
 
 
UCCHM Press Release #1: Satellite data will be essential to future of groundwater, flood and drought management.