California Drought Needs 17 Million Olympic-Sized Pools

California would need enough water to fill 16.7 million Olympic-sized swimming pools to recover from its historic drought, NASA scientists using satellite data estimate.

Water storage in the state’s Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins was about 11 trillion gallons below seasonal levels during the peak of the three-year drought, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said today in a statement. An Olympic-size pool contains about 660,000 gallons of water.

Scientists used satellite data collected since 2002 to calculate how much of a water deficit California was suffering from and what volume would be required to end the drought. Data showed that since 2011, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins decreased in volume by 4 trillion gallons of water each year -- more water than California’s 38 million residents use annually for household and municipal purposes, NASA said.

About two-thirds of the loss since 2011 is from groundwater reserves feeding agricultural demands from the Central Valley.

“Space-borne 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,” Jay Famiglietti, a water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a University of California at Irvine hydrologist, said in the statement.

California was battered this week by a severe storm that caused flash flooding, grounded flights and halted public transit. The state needs at least more five storms of that magnitude before the drought can be considered over.

New drought maps also show groundwater levels across the U.S. Southwest are in the lowest 2 to 10 percent since 1949.

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