Scientists Estimate California Lost 63 Trillion Gallons Of Water

Water stress: Lake Oroville is almost dried up

Water stress: Lake Oroville is almost dried up

Scientists estimate California lost 63 trillion gallons of water in the past 18 months. California’s drought is so severe it’s causing the ground to rise. And besides that, farmers are pumping water at a rate four to five times greater than can be replenished.


As it turns out, 63 trillion gallons of water is pretty heavy. That is how much water scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego estimate has gone missing from the western U.S. over the past 18 months. That incredible water deficit weighs nearly 240 billion tons, and as it evaporated, the ground began to shift. In California’s mountains, by as much as half-an-inch.

Half an inch lift

While scouring the GPS data, researchers noticed that the ground was slowly rising beneath their feet, coinciding with the drought. Taking a closer look, they found that across the western U.S., the ground has risen an average of 0.15 inches since 2013. The effect is much more pronounced in the mountains of California, where the uplift was as high as half an inch.

Scripps scientist Dan Cayan is hopeful these results can prove to be helpful in monitoring water shortages across the globe.

“These results demonstrate that this technique can be used to study changes in fresh water stocks in other regions around the world, if they have a network of GPS sensors,” Cayan said in a press release.

Drought conditions have spread across over 70 percent of the western U.S. as of Thursday. But no state is feeling the drought as bad as California, where over half of the state was in an exceptional drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor’s worst drought classification.

David Zetland, economics professor at Leiden University College in the Netherlands, says farmers are pumping too much water up. Much more than can be replenished: The people of the state of California are more or less destroying themselves. Farmers should be repaying what they are taking. And if they are taking more, as they always are in droughts, then they should be making plans to repay it back in the wet years. If you treat your groundwater they way you treat your retirement account, then everything would be OK.

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