News Feature | October 1, 2018

Cali's Big Bet On Underground Water Storage: Risky?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

California is making a major bet on underground water storage. Is that risky?

The state has begun to hand out over $2.5 billion in state funding for new water storage projects. Some of that will go to underground water storage, which is a far cry from traditional dam-based approaches, KQED points out.

“While diversifying the toolbelt of water management strategies will likely help insulate the state against loss, a group of researchers at Stanford University are drawing attention to a risk they say has long ridden under the radar of public consciousness: the introduction of dangerous chemicals into California groundwater, both through industrial and natural pathways,” the report stated.

One concern is that naturally-occurring chemicals could enter the water system. In addition, industrial contaminants could pose a risk as well, the report stated.

Chromium-6 contamination of water stored underground is among the top fears. Chromium-6 is a contaminant that enters water systems through human activity. This pollutant is famous in part because environmental advocate Erin Brockovich rallied against it in an effort portrayed by Julia Roberts on the silver screen.

“Industries such as metal plating were linked to high Cr-6 levels in the areas outside of Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay. Los Angeles is the largest manufacturing center in the United States, and San Francisco's proximity to Silicon Valley drives much of its industrial growth,” the report stated.

“In the more rural Central Valley, researchers found that chromium was being introduced into the groundwater through agricultural practices. The heavy use of fertilizers meant that chromium was often found alongside nitrogen-based compounds which provide nutrients for crops,” it continued.

Nevertheless, many experts tout the benefits of storing water underground.

“The state should give up — at last — on dated, expensive, environmentally destructive dams and instead put funds toward infrastructure and programs that would help us store more water in aquifers, where there’s plenty of room,” according to a Los Angeles Times opinion piece analyzing this issue.

There is three times more storage space in aquifers compared to surface reservoirs in California, the piece stated.

A California agency OK’d around $2.5 billion for water storage projects across the state this year.

“In a historic vote, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown approved spending $2.5 billion to help fund construction of four new dams and four underground storage projects — including two in the Bay Area,” The San Jose Mercury News reported.