Federal Water Tap, May 13: NASA Begins Pilot Project to Measure Western U.S. Snowpack

NASA and the California Department of Water Resources are collaborating on a project to provide a near real-time assessment of mountain snowpack. The three-year pilot study of watersheds in California and Colorado began last month. The lasers and spectrometers on the Airborne Snow Observatory, carried aboard aircraft that fly below the cruising altitude of a commercial jet, should be more accurate and quicker than ground-based instruments.

“We believe this is the future of water management in the western United States,” said Tom Painter of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Data from the mission will eventually be posted here.

Data for the People
Data generated by the federal government should be “easy to find, accessible, and usable,” according to an Executive Order from President Barack Obama. The order requires the Office of Management and Budget to develop an Open Data Policy, which will ensure that federal agencies digitize data sets and make them available on open platforms while protecting privacy and confidentiality.

One such trove, released last week to coincide with the order, is MATCH – a repository for federal data on climate and health.

Groundwater Depletion
Net groundwater depletion in the U.S. is greatest in the Great Plains, the Mississippi River Delta, the Central Valley of California, and the alluvial basins of Arizona, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The study looked at absolute changes in storage for 40 major aquifers between 1900 and 2008.

The rate of depletion from 2000 to 2008 was roughly three times the rate of depletion for the entire study time frame. In total, groundwater reserves decreased by nearly 1,000 cubic kilometers, or twice the amount of water in Lake Erie.

Aquifers in the Pacific Northwest – the Columbia Plateau and the Snake River Plain aquifers – actually saw a bet increase in storage since 1900 thanks to imported river water from irrigation schemes. But since the late 1970s, both have been declining.

The reverse is true in Arizona where groundwater reserves have increased since 1980 because of stricter management and new surface water supplies from the Colorado River.

New Climate Advisory Committee
The Interior Department announced a new advisory committee for the department’s climate science and climate change adaptation centers. The 25-member committee represents federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, as well as academia and the private sector. Conservation groups also hold several seats.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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