A bridge across the San Andreas Fault

The San Andreas Fault forms a small creek bed near Parkfield, Calif.

Did Napa quake unearth groundwater?

Napa’s recent earthquake may have been a building buster, but a drought-buster?

Not likely, but the temblor did apparently open some chasms that allowed groundwater to flow to the surface in the region that, like the rest of California, has been plagued by an epic drought.

According to one news report, the 6.0 earthquake reportedly allowed groundwater to surface in dry creek beds and streams.

It’s not the first time seismic events have changed the course of water.

When the Fort Tejon earthquake caused over 200 continuous miles of the San Andreas Fault to slip with one big bump in 1857 reports from throughout the Southwest suggested that more than the earth moved.

In one story an eyewitness on the Colorado River (the story doesn’t say where) felt ground movement and saw water sloshing around.

Another report suggested the former Tulare Lake said “the lake commenced to roar like the ocean in a storm.”

Reports also suggest the New Madrid, Mo. Earthquake of 1812 permanently altered the course of the Mississippi River.

The Internet has information from sources like the U.S. Geological Survey that suggests scientists don’t fully understand the impacts earthquakes can have on aquifers. Could their scientific questions mean that tectonic shifts play important a roll in groundwater availability, just as human activities related to pumping do?

What we don't know

In separate stories we sometimes read about newly-discovered species living on Earth that humans never before knew existed. For instance, scientists discovered some strange mushroom-shaped creatures in the ocean off the coast of Australia in the 1980s.

There’s also this story from National Geographic on the top 10 new species of 2014.

I’m not a scientist; I am a science geek. I enjoy reading about it and trying to understand a little a about it. What science suggests to me is that there’s probably an awful lot we simply do not know, yet the reactionaries among us want us to base monumental and life-altering decisions based on a premise and a bunch of unknowns.

I don’t know where the water came from that is filling creeks in the Napa region after the recent earthquake. I do have questions thought. Where is that water flowing? Is it making its way to the Pacific Ocean or simply running across the surface for a while then finding another crack that lets it return to an underground aquifer somewhere?

Is it returning to the same underground aquifer? Did the earthquake lose other underground aquifers that we haven’t yet discovered?

The news story on the sudden surfacing of underground water from the Napa earthquake doesn’t say.

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There’s a host of bills aimed at regulating groundwater in California that await Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr’s approval. While groundwater regulation of some sort will arguably happen in California for a host of reasons I think we can’t let the thought satisfy us that government regulations will forever solve groundwater issues in California.

Just like the Napa earthquake apparently moved subsurface water to the surface, could the next earthquake move it in the opposite direction or worse: could an earthquake drain an aquifer by moving that water beyond the reach of drills and human access?

 

Contact me at [email protected]; follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette

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