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California Drought Triggers Gold Rush While NASA Soars Above

posted on March 28, 2014

California residents are getting anxious about the epic drought gripping their state, and a private study released this week indicated strong support for billions of dollars in state spending to improve water distribution systems.

A survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California revealed 50 percent of likely voters favor a bond issue calling for $11 billion in long-term loans to develop water projects, while about one in three said they would oppose a water bond on the ballot.

Regardless of the outcome, the drought shows no signs of letting up. 

-      According to this week’s Drought Monitor from the University of Nebraska, 72 percent of the Golden State is in extreme to exceptional drought… 

-      Federal research indicates California needs somewhere between 6 and 15 inches of rain to make a serious dent in the arid conditions... 

-      And NASA has deployed a hi-tech aerial observatory to gather data on the mountain snowpack which supplies the vast majority of California’s water.  

California Drought Triggers Gold Rush While NASA Soars Above

Even though spring has sprung in some parts of America, unprecedented drought in California has yet to shift gears.  But warming temperatures in many of the Golden State’s mountain watersheds could provide a trickle of relief.  And new technology has some rather uplifting news for farmers and ranchers toiling over parched ground.

California Farmer:  "It’s all the way down there…ain’t nothin’ there."

Thomas Painter, NASA scientist:  "About 75 to 80 percent of our water comes from the snowmelt. Understanding the snowpack is really, really important."

NASA’s airborne snow observatory recently launched its first flight of the snowmelt season.  Flying over the Sierra Nevada range, scientists gather crucial information that could help allocate water resources amidst the prolonged dry spell.

Armed with the latest high-tech instruments, the aircraft’s cameras and lasers can accurately measure snow depth and other important statistics.

Thomas Painter, NASA scientist: "How fast does it melt? Where does it melt? How is it accumulated? Until this project, we really have not had spatially complete information. We’ve had very patchy information."

The bulk of snowmelt knowledge previously came from ground surveys, which were often inaccurate and incomplete.  But getting the lowdown from up high has been a revelation to researchers.

Thomas Painter, NASA scientist: "We can add up how much water there is in the mountain snowpack in the entire basin. In past years, it's just been what percentage these few locations, about five or six, are telling us there is relative to the last 30 years."

Back on the ground, there is one silver – or rather gold – lining to California’s weather woes.

Prospector: "If you see a good size flake, that's when you get excited."

Low water levels are fueling a modern day gold rush, as prospectors search for the precious metal in the same area that drew hordes of fortune seekers in 1849.

Rudy Price, amateur gold prospector: "I do understand that it's a dramatic impact on everybody during a drought that's this severe, but at the same token I'm taking advantage of it."

And with opportunity knocking in riverbeds that haven’t been exposed for decades, local suppliers may have hit the mother lode.

Frank Sullivan, Co-owner, Pioneer Mining Supplies:  "The rivers being low makes for business being good. A lot of people's having fun. I've seen a lot of new gold coming through the door that people has found."

While striking it rich by panning for gold may be an elusive goal, some of those staking a claim in California waterways aren’t relinquishing the romantic notion. 

Trevor Whitehead, amateur gold prospector

"It's more of a hobby, but obviously if we hit a nice pocket, yeah, I would love to make some money."






Tags: California drought gold NASA Sierra Nevada Mountains snowpack spring water


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