With California in the third year of a severe drought and facing continued extreme weather swings, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) has been developing and using new data and forecasting tools to better anticipate and manage available water supplies.
One new technology that DWR is implementing statewide is collecting airborne electromagnetic (AEM) data across California to better understand the groundwater aquifer structure and to support the state and local goal of sustainable groundwater management. The AEM method is an innovative helicopter-based technology that has been compared to taking an MRI of the subsurface, which helps DWR to better understand underground geology. The resulting underground images provide local groundwater sustainability agencies (GSAs) with data to identify priority areas for recharging groundwater.
In just the first year of this effort, DWR has collected AEM data in about 85% of the planned project area, which includes approximately 100 groundwater basins that supply the vast majority of the groundwater pumped in California. By the end of next year, data will be collected in the remaining high and medium priority groundwater basins in the state, and DWR will continue to release the data to the public as it becomes available.
“Getting this information into the hands of local groundwater sustainability agencies is a top priority,” said Steven Springhorn, Technical Assistance lead for DWR’s Sustainable Groundwater Management office. “As we face this drought and deal with ongoing climate change, local agencies need up-to-date information to help them manage groundwater sustainably. The better we collectively know about our natural infrastructure, our aquifers, and how those aquifers are connected to each other and to the ground surface, the better we can implement Sustainable Groundwater Management Act projects and actions, such as recharge.”
To ensure that local agencies have easy access to the AEM data, DWR recently developed and launched the state-of-the-art AEM Data Viewer, which allows the public to view the AEM data online, in a user-friendly format, as soon as it becomes available. This new GIS-based tool displays AEM data in a three-dimensional space and allows the user to interact with the data by zooming in and viewing the data from various angles. The tool can be accessed on a computer or mobile phone and does not require data to be downloaded or the use of specialized software. DWR will continue to make improvements to the viewer in the coming months to provide additional data visualization options.
Datasets and data reports from the AEM surveys become publicly available about six to twelve months after the surveys are completed and are published on the California Natural Resources Agency Open Data Portal and added to the AEM Data Viewer. Currently, DWR has datasets published for the Salinas Valley, Cuyama Valley, Northern California, and North San Francisco Bay Area groundwater basins.