National Ground Water Association (NGWA)

NGWA science and technology director responds to Wall Street Journal


In a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, NGWA Director of Science and Technology William 'Bill' M. Alley, Ph.D., responded to an editorial, “California’s Climate Change” (February 16). Below is his response.

Your editorial “California’s Climate Change” advocates for expanded surface water storage to address California’s drought and flooding problems. The article completely misses the greatest opportunity to increase water storage in the state — store excess water below ground in aquifers, a practice known as managed aquifer recharge (MAR).

Aquifers exist as natural capital infrastructure storing, transmitting, and treating groundwater. Storing water underground is less expensive than building new dams, avoids the massive losses to evaporation from surface water reservoirs, and greatly reduces the environmental effects of changes in the natural flow of rivers. Underground water storage also can help alleviate problems with land subsidence, which damages the state’s flood control infrastructure.

Groundwater overdraft in California has bequeathed a huge space underground for water storage. To take full advantage of MAR, there remain institutional, infrastructure, and technical issues that need attention. It’s easy to see a big surface water reservoir full of water, but harder to visualize the vast potential groundwater reservoir beneath our feet. While Congress and California consider broad infrastructure plans, support to utilize our natural infrastructure provided by groundwater should be a major component.

William “Bill” M. Alley, Ph.D., is NGWA’s science and technology director and coauthor with Rosemarie Alley of the recently published book, High and Dry: Meeting the Challenges of the World’s Growing Dependence on Groundwater. Before working for NGWA, Alley served as chief of the Office of Groundwater at the U.S. Geological Survey for almost two decades. During his USGS career, he was a hydrologist in the Colorado District’s Surface Water Branch, Systems Analysis Group. He also served as the groundwater coordinator in the National Water Quality Assessment Program and coordinator of the Regional Aquifer System Analysis Program. He can be reached at

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