NASA assists Calif. to manage water

Rain, snow late this week does little for drought

February 26, 2014

NASA says it is partnering with California to develop technologies to better manage and monitor the state’s water resources and respond to its ongoing drought.

NASA said today that it’s working to share satellite and weather data with California farmers and water officials to help them avoid wasting water, and to use it in the most efficient way possible. The space agency says a trial run of its Satellite Irrigation Management Support system in 2012 and 2013 “demonstrated sustained yields while reducing the amount of water used by up to 33 percent relative to standard practice.”

Officials said they welcomed a chance to work with NASA.

“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, DWR Interstate Water Resources Manager, said.

Farmers in California, where Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency last month, are facing hard choices as drought threatens to ruin their crops. The must weigh the costs of paying for irrigation against the chance that their fields will never get enough water this season.

The news that California’s Central Valley will get zero percent water allocation this year was devastating for farmers already dealing with the worst drought seen in decades. The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, which supplies water to a third of the irrigated farmland in California through a 500-mile network of canals and tunnels, said it won’t be able to deliver any of the water sought by farmers.

One of the world’s most productive agricultural regions, the enormous valley is reeling after the driest year in more than a century.

The drought, combined with continued protections for endangered species, has forced farmers to find alternatives. Most farmers have already switched to drip irrigation, which is much more efficient than the flood irrigation technique used when water was plentiful. But still it may not be enough, as farmers are now choosing which crops to water- and which to let wither.

Forecasts of rain and snow were welcomed by many Californians, as parts of the state could see more rain this week than they’ve had in the previous eight months together. But Time’s Bryan Walsh warns that even with the rainfall, “much of California will still be below average for precipitation this month. Since February tends to be the wettest month for California, that means that the state still has a larger and larger rainfall deficit to make up if this drought is to ever end.

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