When Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in California last month, he urged state officials to do everything possible to prepare for upcoming water shortages. Facing ongoing, record-breaking drought, the California Department of Water Resources called in the big guys: NASA.
How, exactly, can the government's space program help here on the ground? They can't make it rain, but they can use their satellite technology to better monitor snowpack and groundwater levels, as well as to predict storms. Or, as a state DWR representative told the Associated Press, "It sounds like a cliché, but if they could put a man on the moon, why can't we get better seasonal forecasting?"
The agency also plans to use its resources to help growers -- responsible for a full half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables -- better schedule irrigation to increase water conservation. When farmers are forced to fallow their fields during the worst shortages, satellites images can help officials know where to open food banks for farmworkers. There's more from NASA on their detailed response strategy here.
We've already gotten a glimpse of what the drought looks like from space; to further convey just what we're dealing with, NASA supplemented their announcement of the partnership with this shocking before-and-after photo of Northern Cali's Folsom Lake reservoir, first at 97 capacity and then, last month, at a mere 17 percent:
Credit: California Department of Water Resources.
They're going to need all the help they can get.