NASA Working On Better Water Resource Management For California
February 26, 2014

NASA Working On Better Water Resource Management For California

[ Watch the Video: How Is NASA Helping With The California Drought? ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA is developing a new technology that could help better manage and monitor water resources in California during the state’s historic drought.

The space agency is partnering with the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to apply advanced remote sensing and improved forecast modeling to better assess water resources, monitor drought conditions and water supplies. These techniques are expected to help the state better plan for drought response and mitigation and measure drought impacts.

"Over the past two decades, NASA has developed capabilities to measure and provide useful information for all components of Earth's freshwater resources worldwide," Michael Freilich, director of NASA's Earth Science Division in Washington, said in a statement. "Working with partners like DWR, we are leveraging NASA's unique Earth monitoring tools and science expertise to help managers address the state's water management challenges."

Researchers on the project will be looking for opportunities to apply remote sensing data and research to the process of water resource management through a partnership established with funding from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"We value the partnership with NASA and the ability of their remote sensing resources to integrate data over large spatial scales, which is useful for assessing drought impacts," Jeanine Jones, Interstate Water Resources Manager, DWR, Sacramento, California, said in a statement. "Early detection of land subsidence hot spots, for example, can help forestall long-term damage to water supply and flood control infrastructure."

The agencies will be using NASA’s Airborne Snow Observatory to map out the snowpack of the Tuolumne River Basin in the Sierra Nevada and the Uncompahgre watershed in the Upper Colorado River Basin. This observatory measures how much water is in the snowpack and how much sunlight the snow absorbs. The data helps estimate how much water will flow out of a basin when the snow melts.

Observatory data last year helped water managers optimize reservoir filling and better allocate water between power generation, water supplies and ecological uses.

Researchers hope to use data to give state water managers updates on how subsidence has progressed during the drought and detect possible new areas of concern. The data could be used to focus on problem areas where too much water is being pumped.

Image Below: The severity of California's drought is visible at Folsom Lake, near Sacramento. On July 20, 2011, the lake was at 97 percent of capacity; on Jan. 16, 2014, it was at 17 percent. NASA and California are collaborating to use NASA Earth observation assets to manage and respond to the drought. Credit: California Department of Water Resources