The New California Water Atlas

Making water understandable in California

design

Today we chatted again with Carolyn Remick, who directs the Berkeley Water Center, a consortium of UC Berkeley researchers who study water. She knows a lot about the many facets of water data in California.

We told her about how we are now doing this "Summer of Groundwater," and focusing on getting something concrete done, which might help facilitate broader dialogues about groundwater in California. We had learned from Carolyn a few months back about the need for work on groundwater, and that was what inspired us to jump in and do something helpful.

Apparently, we have good timing, because there is a lot of new legislation in California that is coming up that will effect groundwater. We will find out more about what this legislation is and what it means for California.

We also asked her the same questions we asked David Zetland about groundwater:

Groundwater has many facets such as aquifer location, aquifer type, land subsidence, water levels, water quality, sensor location, sensor distribution, drinking quality standards. What is the clearest and most useful narrative tell the general public.

What do we need to know first that will be the most impactful?

Is there water in the aquifers?

Both Carolyn and David suggested that we look into the issue of water quantity in the aquifers. Water quality, if it was drinkable or not, is also important, but you need to know where the water is first, and what it is useful for!

After our call, we broke down the basic questions about groundwater into this 'tree.' We are trying to eliminate complexity so that we can make sure to release something that is useable by the end of the summer. If we do a good job with our first groundwater visualization we, or anyone, can add to it.

Essential Questions about Groundwater

Laci has been researching groundwater & groundwater data for the last few weeks, and blogging about where he found it, so we now have a good idea of where information is.

What is Groundwater?

Groundwater is water that exists in the ground in aquifers. In California this is often a gravelly area in the Earth, that sort of acts as a sponge to hold water. This water can be pumped out, or pumped into, to act as water storage. Since we are in a drought, the surface water is scarce in places, and so farmers have to "turn their pumps on," and pump water from the ground to water the food we eat (40% of which, sidenote, we wind up throwing away, which includes food from restaurants, convention centers, expired food etc that we wind up throwing away for legal reasons.)

What is an aquifer?

An aquifer is the container, a geologic structure, in the ground that has the capacity to hold water. Not all aquifers have water in them. If an aquifer goes dry, it's not always possible to fill it back up again. When an aquifer empties, it can collapse. Such an effect produces large regions that sink or "subside" and thus become newly created flood plains. Aquifers that compact can forever be broken, and therefore never bear water in their newly consolidated state.

Do we have data for where the aquifers are?
Yes. We have data for aquifers. The data we are working with lives on Github, and will be improved throughout the summer.

Community Feedback/User Research opportunity

We can interview people who don't know about groundwater to learn what they want to know, and get these answers to be well written.

Proposed logic map for groundwater interactive

Community Feedback/User Research opportunity

We have this basic outline of questions based on research and interviewing researchers. We can build a paper prototype of this, and put it in front of a few people to see what kinds of questions come up. This should help with framing the map to be more understandable for the average person as well as the average researcher.

1. Where are aquifers?

We can map the aquifers. Here is a a still image of where they are. The point of what we are doing this summer to to make it easier for everyone to map the aquifers, via tutorials in Tilemill, etc.

2. Is there water in the aquifer?

Short answer: Sometimes. This changes. Not all water is drinkable.

  • Yes. If YES:
    • How much water is there? (...and this is the level)
    • Is this level a steady level? (usgs has historic levels) - what is the level?
    • Was it always this way? (time series data)
    • Is this ground water depleting? and if so how fast?
    • Is this ground water being recharged? and if so how?
    • Is this groundwater being recharged in a sustainable / healthy way?
    • If yes - how?
    • How certain are we? (Grades: DWR's Bulletin 118, BUDGET_TYP, uses withdrawal vs. deposit model)
    • A - Groundwater budget understood
    • B - Estimated
    • C - Little known about groundwater budget
    • For later: If yes, Is this water OK? Yes / No / I don’t know / It’s complicated
      We are not going to talk about the water quality yet. That will be added in after we answer basic questions about where the groundwater is.
    • What is the level over time?
  • Kind of: On a Gradient in between YES / NO
    • Sometimes, borderline, Yellow, something’s going wrong here, threatened aquifer
    • Yes but the level wavers. (& Why?)
    • Threatened and almost extinct - can it be saved?
    • This is going extinct and that was always the plan.
    • Are you serious, really? (Yes... link to historical Alaska plans)
    • Does it have to be this way?
    • How could we fix this? - suggestion, share information, help us
  • No. If NO:
    • How? How to fix it?
    • If data & no water (DRY)
    • What is the likelihood of land subsidence?
    • Can be recharged?
    • Already a subsided?
    • How could we fix this? - suggestion, share information, help us
  • We don’t know.
    • Why?
    • No data, no local regulations, no state regulation.
    • Start open data collection to fill in uncertain information
    • How could we fix this? - suggestion, share information, help us

More general questions

  • Why does this matter?
  • Why do we need this information?
  • How do we depend on the groundwater, and how much?
  • Who pumps water out, and why?
  • people that need well water if not connected to municipal supply
  • Where is groundwater running out?
  • Is the groundwater part of a sustainability program?
  • Will groundwater running out effect the price of water?
  • How do changes in groundwater relate to drought?
  • How does groundwater extraction effect surface water?
  • Where is the land going to cave in? (subsidence/sink holes)
  • Is it economical to pump a given aquifer? Paying for pumping vs. value of the water itself. For example, for an agricultural operation with surface rights & access to groundwater basin, there is a threshold to start using their water right again, it might be more economical to use surface water. Some farmers sell water rights and pumping aquifers with no regulations. The economics of this work in their benefit. Sort of a “peak water” situation.
  • Where are aquifers being recharged? For example, injection wells. Paying money to push water back into aquifers, injecting surface water into groundwater basins to store it in a "water in/water out" model. Natural vs. artificial recharge.
  • How fast is the groundwater being depleted?
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