Satellite images
Satellite observations of declining water storage in California as seen by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites.

California’s historic drought has come to an end. But the effects still linger.

Faunt: “This past year has been so wet that the snowpack and the surface water reservoirs are all at or well above averages. However, the groundwater system hasn’t quite recovered from the drought and the overuse that’s been chronic for the last number of years.”

That’s Claudia Faunt, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. She says California’s groundwater has long been over-drawn, especially in the central valley. It’s used for agriculture, city water supplies, and to sustain streams and wetlands.

Faunt: “The amount of water being pulled out is more than the amount of water going in. And this is accentuated during droughts when there isn’t enough surface water or snowpack. If we want to recover, we need to be putting more water into the system than we are taking out.”

Given the demand for water, that’s no small task, especially because climate change will likely make droughts more common. But finding a better way to manage the water will be critical:

Faunt: “The groundwater system is an invisible but very vital resource that we depend on, and particularly depend on during times of drought.”

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

Bruce Lieberman, a long-time journalist, has covered climate change science, policy, and politics for nearly two decades. A newspaper reporter for 20 years, Bruce worked for The San Diego Union-Tribune...