Flooding vineyards and increasing groundwater recharge, Terranova Ranch, near Fresno, California, diverts water from a full flood-control channel. (Image credit: Courtesy Terranova Ranch Inc.)

A Stanford-Designed Tool could Guide Floodwater Management & Combat Ongoing Drought

Apr 21, 2021 at 8:00am

Michelle Horton

Floodwaters are not what most people consider a blessing. But they could help remedy California’s increasingly parched groundwater systems, according to a new Stanford-led study. The research, published in Science Advances, develops a framework to calculate future floodwater volumes under a changing climate and identifies areas where investments in California’s aging water infrastructure could amplify groundwater recharge. As the state grapples with more intense storms and droughts, stowing away floodwaters would not only reduce flood risks but also build more water reserves for drier times.

“This is the first comprehensive assessment of floodwater recharge potential in California under climate change,” said study lead author Xiaogang He, an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering at the National University of Singapore who pursued the research as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford’s Program on Water in the West.

Whether it’s rivers overflowing in the Central Valley flatlands, high-tide storms hitting lowland coastal areas, flash floods drenching southern deserts or impermeable concrete-laden cities pooling with water, California is susceptible to flooding. Alternately, looming droughts often raise concern about water supply, as diminished groundwater sinks land, contaminates drinking water and reduces surface supplies. These declining reserves also hamper climate resilience – during periods of drought up to 60 percent of the state’s water comes from groundwater and 85 percent of Californians depend on the resource for at least a portion of their water supply.

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