Napa Earthquake Shakes Loose Unknown Groundwater

A major Northern California earthquake that caused an estimated $400 million in damage also unloosed torrents of groundwater that may help ease the region's drought.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday that the magnitude 6.0 earthquake on Aug. 24 unexpectedly forced groundwater to the surface, filling dry creek beds and parched streams in the region.

Water officials in Vallejo and elsewhere are hopeful they can capture some of the extra water for use. California is experiencing a years-long drought. "This is an unusual thing to have happen,'' said Franz Nestlerode, the assistant public works director for water in Vallejo. "Potentially it could turn out well for us.''

Nestlerode said officials are testing the new water to ensure it's safe for public consumption. "We'll use it if the tests come back in a couple of weeks and everything checks out,'' he said.

He said at least 200,000 gallons of water a day are flowing down Wild Horse. The natural flows were about a tenth of that before the earthquake, Nestlerode added.

Scientists say they've known of this phenomenon since at least the 1860s and have since documented similar occurrences with underground water after several major earthquakes.

The U.S. Geological Survey has received reports of dramatic water increases as much as 20 times average in creeks near Napa, Sonoma and Vallejo. USGS geologist Tom Holzer said he expects other creeks throughout the region of having received similar water infusions.

Holzer said the earthquake opened new cracks and fissures and allowed groundwater to find its way to the surface.  The potential bonanza is expected to dry up in about six to eight weeks when underground water levels return to normal and may even diminish, effecting residents with wells.

"There is only so much water in there,'' Holzer said. "It's like a bank account. You've just reached into the bank account and borrowed some money, but the spending spree will eventually end.''

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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