A groundwater pumping well in Kern County. Groundwater levels have dropped 100 feet in some parts of the San Joaquin Valley. (Craig Miller/KQED)
A groundwater pump in Kern County. Groundwater levels have dropped to all-time lows in some parts of the San Joaquin Valley. (Craig Miller/KQED)

There’s an “alarming lack of information” about California’s biggest reservoir, finds a major new analysis of the state’s groundwater resources.

As water levels dwindle in California’s rivers and reservoirs, many farmers and water districts are relying on the state’s vast underground reservoirs instead. In drought years, groundwater provides up to 60 percent of California’s water supply, according to rough estimates by state officials.

But exactly how much water is being tapped from beneath our feet is largely unknown.

Public information about groundwater is sketchy, even in regions where over-pumping is a chronic problem, according to the report from Stanford University’s Water in the West program, a project of the Woods Institute for the Environment and Bill Lane Center for the American West.

The authors warn that after decades of unrestrained pumping, California is a long way from reaching a sustainable balance of withdrawal and “recharge,” the term used by hydrologists for water that gradually refills most groundwater basins.

Drawing Down the Savings Account

Groundwater is often called California’s “savings account,” holding significantly more water than the state’s surface reservoirs. In dry years, groundwater pumping increases to make up for lost supplies.

This year, some California farms could replace as much as three-quarters of their surface water shortfalls that way, according to a study by U.C. Davis. Hypothetically, in wet years, the groundwater is replenished as rain and snow percolate back into the ground.

But in many parts of California, groundwater is pumped faster than it’s being replenished. NASA satellite data show that over the last 50 years, the Central Valley’s groundwater has been on a steady downward trend  and has hit all-time lows in some areas. Water tables have dropped by 100 feet in parts of the San Joaquin Valley.

Groundwater pumping is largely unregulated in California, except in places where judges have ruled in specific disputes. Landowners are generally free to pump as much as they want from under their property.

“We know that levels are dropping,” says Tara Moran, research associate with Water in the West. “We know that we’re not replenishing them at the rate that we need to be, but we don’t know exactly when it’s going to run out.”

The extent of the problem is being masked by a lack of information, according to Stanford researchers. Crucial data, like how much groundwater is being pumped and how fast levels are dropping, are only collected and shared in a few parts of the state.

“It decreases the reliability of the water supply for the entire state,” says Justin Maynard, who analyzed groundwater records for the study. “There’s no real reliable information on how much groundwater is there.”

Maynard looked at groundwater basins across the state and ranked them according to their public accessibility. That includes groundwater elevation, which drops as groundwater is extracted, and production metering, such as tracking how much water is being pumped at each well.

He also considered well drilling logs, the records that are collected by drillers about the depth and location of a water well, and whether a region had a groundwater model, a comprehensive tool that helps water managers make predictions.

A handful of regions, like Orange County and Santa Clara Valley, have taken a proactive approach to sharing groundwater information, but many places are lagging behind despite serious concerns about over pumping, according to the Stanford analysis.

Maynard says when it comes to groundwater levels and metering of use, there’s nothing that prevents regional water districts from collecting and sharing the information. Well drilling logs, on the other hand, are kept secret by law. The information is reported to California’s Department of Water Resources, but the records are considered confidential.

The drilling logs are key to getting a full picture of groundwater use, says Stanford’s Tara Moran. “Part of understanding how groundwater overdraft is affecting different aquifers requires understanding which aquifers those wells are drawing from,” she says. “Without well log data, you actually can’t understand which of the aquifers is becoming depleted.”

California lags behind almost all other Western states when it comes to groundwater monitoring and reporting, according to data from the Nature Conservancy. Well drilling logs are publicly available in every Western state besides California.

“If we aren’t managing it in a sustainable way, there are a lot people that will be vulnerable as a result,” says Moran. “We have cities throughout California that are 100 percent reliant on groundwater.”

State Reporting Requirements Slow to Be Met

California water officials are attempting to gather more comprehensive information about groundwater use under a program known as CASGEM (California Statewide Groundwater Elevation Monitoring). It was authorized by a bill passed by the state legislature in 2009.

Under the program, regions must designate a reporting entity and then share information about groundwater levels. Participation is voluntary, though regions that don’t share data lose eligibility for some state water grants.

Getting participation has been a slow process, according to state officials. Of 515 groundwater basins, only 208 are fully or partially reporting data under the program.

As a result, the state has focused on participation in areas that are highly reliant on groundwater. That includes about a quarter of California’s groundwater basins, which have been designated as high-or-medium priority. The state is now getting at least some groundwater data from 78 percent of those areas.

The yellow areas show high and medium priority groundwater basins that are not reporting information to the state. Click map for a larger image. (Source: Department of Water Resources)
The yellow areas show high and medium priority groundwater basins that are not reporting information to the state. Click map for a larger image. (Source: Department of Water Resources)

“We have increased the amount of data available in groundwater,” says Mary Scruggs, who works on the program at the California’s Department of Water Resources. “There were areas that we didn’t have data at all.”

But Scruggs says there’s still a lot to be done before the state gets a grip on groundwater use. Currently, the groundwater data is only reported to the state twice a year.

“If they’re only monitoring in the spring and fall, it’s not like a reservoir where you can watch the water drop,” says Scruggs. “It’s a step in the right direction but during a drought, monitoring more frequently would probably be better to have a better understanding.”

Some agencies have shown little interest in participating. “It could be they don’t have the financial wherewithal to be doing it,” Scruggs says.

Other areas would prefer to keep the information secret. “They don’t have wells or the wells’ owners aren’t willing to make that information available,” she says.

State lawmakers are considering ramping up groundwater regulation, prodded by this year’s extreme drought. Two bills, SB 1168 and AB 1739, would require regions to put together groundwater management plans, following recommendations from the California Water Foundation and the Association of California Water Agencies.

Scruggs says data and reporting will be a critical part of any regulation. “If you don’t know what’s going on with the groundwater, how do you manage the resource?” she says.

California’s Biggest Water Source Shrouded in Secrecy 3 June,2015Lauren Sommer

  • DiscusBS

    Excessive water use by an “out of control agriculture” is the major source of California’s water problems. Big Ag can be counted on to thoroughly obstruct and obfuscate any efforts to gain control of California’s water just as they have done for the last 40 years. Agriculture and its agriculturally controlled water agencies and districts should have no say or control regarding monitoring and operations. They have proved that they cannot be trusted to do the right thing. Too many politicians are buttered by the ag lobbyists and it is time for a fresh approach that limits their collective input and obfuscation. They have contaminated and overdrafted our water for far too long. At least one million acres of permanent desert crops with high water demand need to be taken out of production in order for us to regain some sort of sustainability. Sustainable agriculture should be rewarded and agriculture that does not fit with our water supply should be penalized and relocated to some other state or country where adequate water exists.

    • Rancherlady

      How ignorant a comment! You seem to not understand a few relevant facts. First, crops being grown in CA require a temperate climate that other states don’t have which is what identified CA as being the “breadbasket of the world” until the progressive “environmentalists” paid off the politicians to destroy the industry. Second, a good part of the value of property is determined by its water availability thus should currently proposed legislation to control/deny groundwater to AG will result in a flood of lawsuits for inverse condemnation.
      I will be one of them being a fourth generation rancher proudly producing food, medicine and fiber for the general public. How’s that for sustainable?! By the way, your “sustainable” AG requires water too. We’ve been sustainable for over a century!

      • Aaron King

        you are saying that your aquifer has not been dropping? And your aquifer salt content has not increased? if so, you need to get your ranch in some kind of case study to show the rest of the state how to do it…

        • Rancherlady

          You don’t need to waste more taxpayer money doing a study! Just use common sense. That seems pretty uncommon these days. You don’t use more water than you have and if you need more, BUILD MORE STORAGE FACILITIES! By the way, I’m married to a world-class hydro geologist. And no, my water supplies are the same as they have been since the 1920’s and I don’t have to replant or fertilize my fields either.

          • anon

            sounds like bullshit to me, but it is a ranch so theres probably plenty of it.

    • Cary K

      For different reasons than Rancherlady, I agree the comment is ignorant. “Out of control ag”? Ag takes more care to efficiently use its water resource than any other sector in the State, namely cities. Municipal water use went up this year. Ag went down. Many residential estates in Alameda, Santa Clara and other Counties gladly pay excessively high tiered water rates so they don’t have to cut back on their landscape watering.

      The City and County of San Francisco, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, the Contra Costs Water Districts and the Santa Clara Valley Water District (not a complete list) have almost single handedly destroyed the Delta due to their complete diversions of Sierra Mountain Range rivers into the Delta. Where do you think the Bay Area’s water comes from? Yes, south valley growers and MWD
      divert water from the Delta and use it but, the Bay Area in nearly an equal partner in crime. I work for an Irrigation District and we efficiently and carefully use every drop of water we are allowed to divert from our source, a year-round creek. The commenter just doesn’t know (or want to know) the nonsense she’s repeating.

      • anon

        I’d say these almond farms are a huge part of the problem, they are way too thirsty for what is obviously becoming a desert at the rate we are at it.

  • Brian Kreitzer

    I appreciate the effort put into writing this article. I am simply
    amazed that there is not enough data being collected at every water
    extraction point in California. Moreover, why is the data that is being
    collected so closely guarded? How can you expect the residential,
    governmental and commercial bodies to conserve when the “state” does not
    know the current conditions of our most previous natural resource? I
    would image the public would conserve a lot more if there were a metric
    that accurately measured the current levels of the groundwater. For
    example, the current level is down to 45% with a state-wide consumption
    of # millions of gallons/day. At this rate it would take X years to
    recharge the groundwater.

    Ignorance, in this case, is not bliss.
    I feel we are so far down the road of groundwater depletion that our
    only immediate hope is to significantly increase the level of
    conservation education. There is simply no excuse to ignore or guess our
    way out of this problem.

    • Aaron King

      Water data is not collected or maintained or stored in properly accessible manner because landowners, and particularly farmers and ranchers, and their lobbying groups have spent millions of dollars to prevent that data from being available. They do this for various reasons, but the most common one is that these farmers and ranchers know that if the data were available, they would be held responsible for destroying our groundwater aquifers with over pumping, hazardous waste dumping, poorly constructed wells acting as conduits for surface contaminants to get into the aquifers, and generally being terrible stewards of our public resource.

      That is why.

  • Terry Carroll

    “Landowners are generally free to pump as much as they want from under their property.”

    That right there, that’s the fundamental problem with all extraction laws — water, oil, or gas, etc.. Because “under your property” is ill-defined. Unless your property includes the entire area above a subsurface reservoir, one is actually, usually, drawing from water (oil or gas, etc.) that extends well beyond your surface boundaries. Simply because you can poke a pipe through your ground doesn’t (or shouldn’t) make the whole accessible subsurface substance “yours.” We need to treat the subsurface in the same manner that we treat the atmosphere. You can’t belch whatever you want into the air “above your property,” because air pollution doesn’t remain tubular, straight up. So, too, with sucking. If the laws/rules were accurately constructed, the “under your property” definition would/should limit the amount drawn equal to the volume equivalent to the surface area of “your property” multiplied by the known depth of the reservoir.

  • Eric

    Great article, and I do think there is huge room for improvement when it comes to public access to groundwater data. I do think it’s comical, however, that the researchers’ definition of “publicly available” information from local water agencies is strictly limited to only what is available from a quick Google search. For most of the smaller CA water agencies the vast majority of the information they manage (in many cases terabytes of data) is available to the public upon request. But yes, much of it isn’t on the internet for graduate researchers who may be too lazy to pick up a phone or send an email to request it.

    • Aaron King

      Eric. first off, you are simply wrong. the public water data is housed at CDPH, “most” of the agencies dont even maintain a database in a format that anyone can use. a pile of old paper reports in a drawer is not really of any use, especially when it is invariably incomplete, missing years or entire sections of the system, and in several different formats and often unreadable. Also, you are wrong about what is public data. The data, whether stored at CDPH or in 1 of a thousand different formats at some water agency, is confidential and NOT publicly available. you can get water quality, but you cant relate that to any location.

      Also, your understanding of what is available is exactly opposite of reality. if anything it is easier to get data from larger water purveyors. they tend to have more money and better data-keeping procedures. the smaller systems are almost universally unable to produce good data records.

      Even the parts of the data that are available (the actual water quality test results) are so full of errors and poorly maintained and poorly updated that it takes an enormous amount of time and money to even get started with analysis, and you still dont know WHERE the wells are or how deep they are or what aquifer they are sampling.

      even if you get your hands on the confidential data, there are gross errors in the location coordinates, over half of the water data sources sampled by public water systems do not have proper coordinates, that’s about 25000 water sources. Only a tiny fraction of the water wells have been investigated to find out where they are screened. Its just slightly better than pointless to know where a well is if you dont know how deep it is or where the perforated interval(s) are.

      only in the last 2 years has any semblance of a dataset been developed that shows where the service areas are for these water system. that dataset is improving rapidly, but its still weak.

      most importantly, you’re entire idea of what needs to be done is lacking in vision. we are not talking about finding out the water quality in one single house. that IS pretty easy, if they are on a public water system. but to try to manage a state of 35 MILLION people one house at a time is stupid. you have to understand which water purveyors are wholesalers and which are retailers, you have to understand how the water delivery systems blend treated and untreated water, you have to know where they serve it and where they dont. you have to know how the groundwater moves, where the recharge occurs, and what is going into the ground with that recharge.

      the metadata reporting by water systems is incredibly poor. most do not report accurate numbers of persons or households served. the water quality data is collected at multiple sources within each system, like at the well head or at the treatment plant if they have one, but many of those sources are incorrectly identified, so you dont know if you are looking at WQ from a treated source, one that’s been chlorinated, or a raw source, or what. there is no linkage established between sources to identify the path water flows along from one source to another. most water systems dont know themselves where their pipes are for their entire system, and almost none have a map.

      And that’s just the public water systems. millions of people are served by tiny water systems that are not even regulated, or by household wells.

      the problem is not that people are lazy about doing the analysis. the problem is that we have an 80+ year history of takers polluting and over-using our water resource while maintaining an iron grip on the politicians who are supposed to represent our interests. The agricultural lobby in California has been using every tool available to prevent data collection, data dissemination, and data analysis since the beginning of the last century. Atitudes like yours provide cover for this nonsense to continue at our expense.

      • Eric

        Hello Aaron,

        Thank you for your response. I do have to say, it is amazing how much you were able to assume from my very brief comment and then on tangent run with it. 😉 I’ll try to address those that were in response to what I did say, and will ignore the rest.

        1) Public water data is NOT limited to data that is housed at CDPH. If it is, then I ask you to please point me to that definition either within the CA Water Code, or elsewhere.
        2) I think you are confusing what is “confidential” and/or legally protected with all data that is publicly available. Most water agencies are public agencies and are thus subject to public requests for information unless that information is protected by State law, such as in the case of public supply well locations and well completion reports. Your gripe about inaccurate public supply well locations is California law, not some local water agency conspiracy.
        3) You’ve merely echoed my point about “smaller” water purveyors and their lack of capacity to make data available. However, you’ve also reinforced the rub by pointing out how much time and money it takes to prepare the data in such a way that you and others think is necessary. I’ll let your local purveyor know that they can just add it to your rate increase.
        4) As someone who has seen thousands of well logs, your comment about only a fraction having been investigated for well screening information is simply NOT TRUE. To be more accurate, what you should have said is the general public has not investigated them for screen depths. Overlying public agencies, the USGS and the CA DWR have done plenty of investigating. If state law allowed the logs to be publicly investigated, I’m all for you doing whatever investigating you feel is necessary.
        5) If agriculture is the only lobby preventing you from access to the data you seek, then why do you site drinking water system your primary gripe?

        • Aaron King

          reap what you sow. its intellectual laziness to say that the problem is grad students not willing to do a little work. the only reason i am even talking to you is because you are making a real problem sound like its nothing that a little elbow grease cant fix, and you are wrong. we need serious work done here by serious people who know what they are doing. when people get up on their personal hobby horse and start muddying the water with nonsense, it sets us back. i get the sense you should know better.

          I hope people will look at this and start to get a sense of the scope of the problem.

          1. i did not say that “Public water data” is limited to CDPH. YOU said that “publicly available” information from local water agencies” was available from the agencies. Thus, YOU limited the scope of your statement to Water System data. I am well aware that there is other data out there. YOU did not appear to know that, and then YOU went on to make statements about the availability of the PWS data – and those statements were wrong. again, as i stated before, sure you can go call some water agency and get some nearly useless incomplete dataset in several different formats with missing units and no metadata,. have fun with that. the rest of us will use the data that is housed at CDPH. However, it is only the water quality data, not the locations or any of the well construction data. That is not available to the public. If water agencies are willing to hand it out, that’s fine, but again, there are several thousand of those and you’ll quickly find that it is simply impossible to get the data that way for any large scale analysis. As I said before: managing CA on a 1 household at a time basis is foolish, and its only slightly less foolish to do it one rinky-dink water system at a time. most of the water systems are tiny, underfunded, and have almost zero data-handling capacity. you need all (or nearly all) of that data. its not a couple of weeks of grad student time we are talking about. its tens of thousands of man hours, and since much of the data is confidential, much is poorly maintained, and much is simply gone or wrong and there’s almost no QAQC, its rare to get any funding to do that work. You have to go through the state, going through the water systems is silly.

          2. no. you are wrong. the locations of wells is confidential information and it is not available to the public, same as all well construction data. I am not confusing anything. There has been a major push by the research community to change this so we can use the data, but there’s been pushback by the ag community and a few politicians whose motivation i do not understand. I never said anything about public water agency conspiracy, i dont know what you are talking about, of course its state law, what else would it be? the water agencies dont care, for the most part, unless it means more work for them. the people who care are the ag community who want to avoid letting the data about groundwater quality and quantity get analyzed because they know it will inevitably indicate their own culpability. these guys are just acting in their own self interest. its pretty terrifying to know that your 6000 acre farm holdings are sitting on a lawsuit that you are almost certain to lose. Every time someone gets their hands on a bunch of data it shows that ag is the primary source of water quality degradation in most of California. This should be no surprise. we’ve been over pumping for decades, drilling sub-standard wells, essentially not regulating fertilizers and only recently regulating pesticide practices, we pretend that ground and surface waters are different, we over-allocate supply and assume pumping will make up the deficit..

          3. no. you said “For most of the smaller CA water agencies the vast majority of the information they manage (in many cases terabytes of data) is available to the public upon request.” Those are your words. The thing you dont understand, but are willing to be snide about anyway, is that smaller water systems tend to have incredibly crummy records. its not their fault, they were never told to do a better job and there’s NO NEED since all of their data is required to be stored at CDPH anyway, and they have no money to do it even if they were required. its silly to go to a public (larger than 14 service connections) water purveyor and ask for water quality data anyway, but its really naive to think that the data accessibility is better with smaller agencies. its the opposite. anyway, that’s the wrong way to get the data, you should go to CDPH because they actually have all the data.. however, you are not going to get location data unless you are a representative of some agency and can sign a confidentiality agreement. and even then, the locations data are poorly maintained, often incorrect and almost none of the wells have construction information.

          also, there’s another whole issue: many thousands of smaller systems that are not even required to send data to CDPH, those serving fewer than 15 connections…

          4. i am sure you have looked at a lot of logs. Not as many as I have, but fine, you know what’s on there. So, have you ever seen a PS-Code on there? Here is my point: DWR has well logs for darn near every well ever drilled, but they are stored by well-log number. Only about 20% have an assigned State Well Number, and even those dont have that number on the well-log. You have to go to a form 429 for that and it is ALSO confidential!! It will also be a pdf or a piece of paper and DWR sometimes cant tell you for sure which one goes with which well log. They will just send you a pile of them. You just have to hope that the penciled in scribble that was written on there in 1975 is legible and isnt simply wrong. And again, you’re still looking at ONE well. really not much point in that. Now, if you want to spend several tens of millions of dollars and several years updating the DWR well logs database, then that might be interesting. Please PLEASE do that. You get right to work writing that grant.

          Anyway, lets say you get your hands on those well logs (which are confidential by the way), you still wont know which log goes to which public supply well. CDPH uses a code called a Primary Station Code to identify water data sources (like wells). DWR does not use that code. DWR uses the State Well Number. The SWN includes information that can allow a person to locate a well to within a quarter mile, and therefore that SWN is itself confidential information as far as the state is concerned because they require the location to be obfuscated by a random distance of up to one mile. That doesnt really matter anyway since you wont have the SWN for the public supply wells, because CDPH doesnt retain that information in the database of water quality data. So, your point about well logs being available for all the wells, while true, is irrelevant, because there is no way to connect a water supply well to its well log, except one at a time, and even then, its highly likely it will be wrong. If you call up DWR and say “send the well logs for these 20,000 wells”, they will laugh in your face. Even if they wanted to, they could not do it. Now, the California implementation of the Drinking Water Source Assessment Program was running for a while, and they were doing the hand work to match PWS wells to logs, and we got some good data there, or at least we have numbers for some wells (I have not seen the QAQC but I expect its OK). But that effort got defunded almost a decade ago and is no longer moving forward at an appreciable rate.

          “agencies have done plenty of investigating” LOL. not even close. there are maybe a couple of hundred drinking water wells that have been linked to their logs by USGS and DWR, and that was not dsone programmaticlly, but rather incidentlaly during other projects. The linkage between well logs and public supply wells data is so rare as to be almost irrelevant. Worse, when that linkage is made, DWR doesnt even record the fact, so if someone else comes along and asks for the same well again, DWR wont know that they already did that work!!

          You think that because theres a well log stored somewhere on a PDF that is identified by a number that has no relationship to any other database, and that well log has some scrawled information about the screen, that somehow that means the data is available for analysis? please, i’d love to see your plan for this work, and how you can whip it out in just a few short years with a few bucks and a candle to work by…i bet you can get it all done in no time at all…there’s only about a million well logs after all.

          5. You missed my point entirely. water systems dont maintain data because they dont have to and because they dont have the capacity to do so. They dont have to because of the way the laws are written, but that doesnt matter, CDPH does keep records. But CDPH is also underfunded, or at least has generally lacked the continuity of personnel and funding to do the job very well. Now, CDPh is trying to implement the federal EPA SDWIS protocol for data storage and that has already improved things quite a bit, but the Drinking Water Program is also being taken over by the State Board and the politics and reshuffling of that move has and will continue to delay implementation of the new protocols, resulting in further deterioration of the dataset.

          also, there are two different datasets to think about, anyway (at least). 1 is drinking water supply data storage and availability, the other is groundwater ambient data. they overlap because some of the CDPH data is for raw water from wells, but theres about 25 other datasets that have small to large repositories of ambient water quality data. its almost an artistic marvel that so few of those datasets have common identifyers. USGS, DWR, SWRCB, CDPH, DPR, EPA, all use different codes! Thats a result of poor planning, lack of funding, and poor communication, but the other issue with ambient data is the persistent and well-funded efforts of Ag to prevent groundwater investigations from going forward at all. Its also reasonable to expect that the same people who are constantly trying to underfund our public agencies are the people who stand to benefit from those agencies being underfunded…Ag keeps the ambient data collection to as low a rate as possible with constant lobbying efforts and lawsuits. We simply have not had the data to adequately characterize water quality in most of our aquifers. We definitely dont have enough to build models to help us understand what we can do to maintain or improve most of our aquifers. on the bright side, some major law suits over the last 2 decades have opened that up quite a bit, specifically, the sierra club 20 year law suit to end the Ag Waiver exemption nonsense, and then the 2007 commencement of the Dairy Order. Also, USGS did some amazing work modeling at a large scale and although there are problems with using their work as any kind of local guide to policy, it is at least a start. I never said ag was the only lobby, but its certainly the most important one. private property rights people, and weird anti-government people probably have some influence too. Mostly its Ag though. and for the reasons i stated.

          All of this is not to say it cant be done, but this ridiculous over simplification and reductionism has to stop. We have a serious problem. its going to require an incredible effort to solve it, and there are major interests that are opposed to anyone making any progress on it.

          • Diatribe Navigator


            Thank you for your “novel” (of a) response. Joking aside, I really do appreciate the debate – it is healthy.

            – First and foremost, you’re still restating many of the points I’ve been making. As near as I can tell, you and I are not all that far apart with the biggest difference being what we consider to be “lazy”.

            – On that note, it’s intellectual laziness to ignore the fact that “a little” (which it’s not) “elbow grease” costs rate payers money. You state well the severity of the issue, yet seem to conveniently downplay or outright ignore that part.

            – And you’re right, there is some serious work to be done. No doubt about that.

            – No, you didn’t say Public water data is limited to CDPH (exactly), you said “you should go to CDPH because they actually have all the data”. That’s a direct quote from your last post, and you made a similar statement in the previous post. True CDPH is the best clearing house for groundwater data (especially since they incorporated DWR WDL and other sources), but it is by no means comprehensive especially beyond the realm of drinking water data.

            – Your definition of “water agencies” is too narrow. Water agencies include irrigation districts, flood districts, PUD’s, CSD’s and many others. Not all are PWS’s (definitions are easily available through a Google search). Perhaps that will shed some light on why I made some of the statements that I did.

            – Regarding the QAQC issue, I completely agree. Much of the data is in poor shape, however, I will point out that the biggest issue there (albeit obviously not the only issue) is legacy data older than 10 or 20 years. Many agencies, including state agencies, are in the process of cleaning up the huge mess left by continuous kicking of the can down the road. Example; CDWR has recently secured funding to digitize well completion reports. Some regional office are already done with that job, while others are on schedule to complete by end of next year. I’m also aware of some local agencies that are taking similar steps.

            – “LOL. not even close. there are maybe a couple of hundred drinking water wells that have been linked to their logs by USGS and DWR” See above. All I can say is, you are wrong. Pick up a phone (sorry, had to say it) and call your local DWR to confirm your claim and get back to me.

            – There is a distinction between legally confidential, and confidential as a matter of local policy or personal privacy. I was distinguishing between the two. From your response it appears you understand the difference – and I will agree that the local policy (or ag well owner) side of this obstacle is an issue. I’m aware of the (many) pushes to fix this in the legislature, and have been involved in that as well as other related processes.

            – Regarding small water systems and the issues they face over larger agencies, I think we agree.

            – I’m well aware of what CDPH (raw and Geo-GAMA) data is and isn’t. I’ve seen both the confidentiality agreements they tender, and the location tables they provide as a deliverable. I’m also a GISP, so I’m ‘somewhat’ familiar with well data, databases and spatial information.

            – You’ll be happy to know (if you don’t already) that both GS and DWR are refining their model resolutions (CVHM and C2VSim) in select basins as a demonstration. Much of the data that is poorly maintained and not readily available is being supplied by regional partners. For CVHM, the model is being refined for multiple studies, including one by the Regional Board’s SALTS initiative, and another by GS staff under the supervision of Claudia Faunt. In the end, they will be more detailed than anything else out there, including smaller regional models under the development and operation of the local overlying water agencies.

          • Diatribe Navigator

            I will add that making all of this data publicly available and in an easy-to-use format would only solve part of the problem. The importance of local-level empirical knowledge and vetting of assumptions through those who have it cannot be overstated. There are researchers who have and will continue to be guilty of limiting their research to sitting in a dark room behind a computer playing with data they may not fully understand, preparing wonderful reports complete with big words, cool graphics and very compelling recommendations that the news media just loves to gobble up. Hey, it’s great for securing that next funding source to carry on with the research…
            I work with many university researchers who by no means fit this mold, but as the saying goes it only takes one bad musician to screw up the band.

          • Laci Videmsky

            Hi Diatribe Navigator & Aaron King. I appreciate your passionate discussion about the data. I feel similarly about many points stated by both of you. The problem has many dimensions, and there is clearly no silver bullet. Incremental improvements do exist however, and we should explore these across agencies.

            A handful of us from different universities and the open science/open data community are crafting an event next spring (after the rains, when cooler heads prevail) to discuss access to data issues, and simple and implementable ways forward. We will build upon the work that came out of the Environmental Data Summit 2014 and hope to include water professionals public/private, and members of the tech/data community.

            Your knowledge and perspectives of the data landscape would be very welcome.

          • Rancherlady

            And unfortunately, many researchers and university folk have a political agenda in mind that will inevitably strangle those of us who provide the essential survival items such as food, clothing or medicine. Oh wait! You can get those things from China! Be careful what you wish for! Had you thought about sewage produced in great quantities in urban areas?

          • anon

            your beef isnt essential its a luxury item.

  • Spirit

    Finds out that the water is what keeps the plates from applying pressure on each other over pump creates next big earth quake

  • patp

    When California’s water runs out, there will be less food, prices will be higher, and obesity will decrease. California’s relevance will diminish considerably, and wealthy farmers will beg for, and probably receive, nice federal bailout checks. All is well.


Lauren Sommer

Lauren is a radio reporter covering environment, water, and energy for KQED Science. As part of her day job, she has scaled Sierra Nevada peaks, run from charging elephant seals, and desperately tried to get her sea legs – all in pursuit of good radio. Her work has appeared on Marketplace, Living on Earth, Science Friday and NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can find her on Twitter at @lesommer.


Craig Miller

Craig is KQED’s science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to his current position, he launched and led the station’s award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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