Deep dig: Farther-down drilling into Valley aquifers brings more ‘up-top’ pollution

As drought conditions worsen in the western U.S., it is there that water is becoming more and more scarce. As for that which is at the surface and below, you know, the subsurface supply, is everything being done that can be done to get the most out of this extremely valuable resource?

In California’s San Joaquin Valley, according to information imparted on the Jul. 20, 2021 edition of the PBS “News Hour,” agriculture drinks up half of the groundwater supply. In some Valley locations, water availability is extremely limited. In a couple of Valley locations, there are wells that have gone completely dry.

One Madera-based family featured in the news report, was just so-affected: the family’s well was dry. (Madera, incidentally, is a community situated in the north Valley).
For this one family, drilling down deeper into the aquifer that had supplied water to the family home previously wasn’t an option. For them, the well-drilling alternative, apparently, was beyond their financial means.

The answer, as it turned out, was reliance on an on-property, water-storage tank, one substantial in size that would sit on the ground. Resupplies, meanwhile, each time would have to be truck-delivered. And, as was pointed out, water conservation for this particular family, was strictly required, or so it seemed.

As to drilling deeper into the existing water table, not only can this option be expensive, there are also environmental concerns to consider.

Environmental considerations connected to the movement of drilling equipment to the drill site. Then it must be assembled and the work then begun. Typically, to handle the task, it is diesel equipment that’s dispatched. And, as a piece of diesel-powered equipment, it air-pollutes: There seems no getting around this. People in the Valley, like people everywhere, need and use water. That’s the reality. The fact that water availability in this region is in comparatively short supply, only further complicates matters.

Unless and until Valley-based subsurface supplies can be replenished, meaning if and when the rains come and enable groundwater storage recharging, conservation of what is presently available, is paramount.

To help offset the need for deeper well-drilling, resourceful measures such as installing drip lines or drip tape on large farming operations, which allows for precise watering, for example, can make a tremendous difference where water use is concerned. The amounts of water needed to grow crops like almonds, grapes, and other assorted nuts, fruits and vegetables can, compared to flood-irrigating techniques, be reduced. And, drip irrigation isn’t just limited to the farm application: It works just as well in the yard to water on-property plants, shrubs and trees.

Another option involves having rain gutters direct the precious resource into holding tanks placed around the home via downspouts that feed the water directly into said tanks. This supply can then be used to feed thirsty lawns or, like in the example above, on-property plants, shrubs and trees.

But, that’s not all. When running the kitchen and/or bathroom and/or utility room wash-basin taps, if there is excess, instead of letting it go down the drain, such can be collected in bins and then used for any number of purposes, again, like in watering plants, trees and shrubs.

In the shower, meanwhile, shorter times allotted for such can be designated. Or, the water can be completely turned off when lathering up with soap and then turned back on to rinse off.

As an aside, with groundwater use, in California has come land subsidence. This is where the ground compresses as the water table drops. This has been known to put a strain on certain types of infrastructure, such as on canals used for, ironically, water transport sometimes over considerable distances, a practice widely utilized in California’s San Joaquin Valley, in fact. These canals are often concrete lined and when the land supporting them experiences subsidence, the integrity of these canals can become compromised. The water flowing in these channels typically goes to agricultural use. In this region, water from melted mountain snow is what feeds these typically.

And finally, as a means to capture and hold said snow-melt run-off, proposed for several Valley, other California as well as western U.S.-based locations, are dams. In some areas depending on the region, with all that has to be taken into consideration environmental-clearance-wise, such a solution may be an unworkable one.
The idea behind each of these alternatives is to make every drop of water go its farthest. In that air quality can be helped in the process in certain situations is in no way a wash, I guarantee that.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.