NASA Report Says 11 Trillion Gallons Needed To End California's Drought

Jessica Applegate

On December 16, NASA released a report that a minimum of 11 trillion gallons of water would be needed to end the three-years-long drought in California.

"Spaceborne and airborne measurements of Earth's changing shape, surface height and gravity field now allow us to measure and analyze key features of droughts better than ever before, including determining precisely when they begin and end and what their magnitude is at any moment in time," Jay Famiglietti, lead scientist of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena stated in the report.

With this new information, those in control of water management systems will be able to make better judgment when calculating conservation and water routing in the future when severe dry conditions arise.

But what of the current drought conditions that have grown steadily worse over the past three years?

One might think, with the terrible weather some parts of California experienced earlier this month, that such a deficit would take care of itself. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. The drought is primarily centered on the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, which are located in the central part of the state, and while the rain was a welcome reprieve from the dry, arid weather, it didn't deliver nearly enough water to offset the drought.

CBS News reported that while some of the state's water reservoir levels were indeed increased, including the largest in the state by 94 billion gallons, this only raised the water level by 5 percent, not nearly enough to offset the current drought conditions. The largest water reservoir in the United States is Lake Mead, located in Nevada. The amount of water needed to liberate California from its water shortage would have to fill Lake Mead one and a half times to meet the needs of the millions of people living in the state.

For some parts of California such as the Central Coast, living in more dry conditions is a way of life, but an alarming 55 percent of state has been classified as experiencing "exceptional drought" according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This leaves many to questions just what is to be done?

The answers aren't easily found.

A significant source of water comes from the snow which melts off of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. According to the same report released by NASA, the snowpack measurement is one of three worst on record, and the worst to be seen since 1977, making replenishment an even more dire situation. With less snow coverage, the soil also gets more exposure to the sun, reducing the amount of moisture the ground itself contains. Combined with slowly depleting underground water supplies, it appears that California is in for a long recovery.

Famiglietti stated that it "takes years to get into a drought of this severity, and it will likely take many more big storms, and years, to crawl out of it."

[Image courtesy of NASA JPL and the U.S. Drought Monitor]