San Andreas Fault zone

The US Geological Society not only studies the major collision zones of tectonic plates; it studies water issues as well.

Could USGS data help California with groundwater law?

Show of hands: how many people know the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) collects data about the country’s surface water?

I thought they basically just measured earthquakes and studied rocks.

A Twitter post led me to a quick trip to the USGS website, which shows that the agency does much more than study the solid portions of the Earth.

This is good stuff to know since California is running out of surface water and is apparently close to running out of groundwater as well. We need some good science to help us better understand all facets of aquifers: how they recharge, their regional limitations and what happens when my neighbor decides to mine water and pipe it elsewhere.

According to the USGS website some of those questions are apparently already addressed, as is the movement of contaminants from the land surface into and through aquifers.

“A lot of work also goes into studying the quality and chemical makeup of our water resources,” says the USGS.

Data about water availability and use is also compiled and studies by USGS.

To accomplish these tasks, the USGS has over 150 field offices where personnel are involved in the following activities:

  • Collecting water samples from groundwater and surface-water bodies
  • Making measurements of water properties, such as pH and temperature
  • Measuring stream flows and the amount of water in wells
  • Analyzing water samples in the field and in laboratories
  • Compiling data from many sources about how much water is used for different purposes
  • Writing reports about our water resources
  • Creating many computerized water data bases
  • Producing maps, reports, and web sites to give the public and others information about our water resources
  • Keeping the U.S. Congress and the President informed about water-resource issues

Just what is done with all these reports and data? Are they cataloged and filed away, never to be seen again, or are they digitized and placed online where an appropriate and useful keyword search can find them and use them to figure out how much groundwater pumping is really too much in specific regions of California.

Apparently some of this information is already online because the USGS says so. How does one go about finding this information and how useful is it?

This is all stuff we need to know now that California Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr. has signed groundwater legislation that mandates agencies develop sustainable practices for using groundwater in the state.

While much is unknown about just how the new California water laws will work on a practical level, knowing that at least one agency has already complied data might be a good thing.

Let’s hope those who will be in the deep end of California’s new water law can wade past the hyperbole and swim into good, peer-reviewed science that is void of self-serving bias.

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