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Department of Water Resources conducts helicopter survey of Paso Robles-area groundwater basin

Department of Water Resources
A helicopter conducts an airborne electromagnetic (AEM) survey.

If you live in Paso Robles or Atascadero, you may have seen a strange sight this weekend: a helicopter with a large hoop on it, flying 200 feet above the ground.

The Department of Water Resources held something called an airborne electromagnetic survey of that area to collect data on the groundwater basin there.

During one of these surveys, the helicopter tows electronic equipment — which looks like a large hoop — that sends signals into the ground, which then bounce back.

It’s like taking an MRI of the ground’s subsurface — and it helps the DWR know more about our groundwater basin.

Steven Springhorn is the DWR’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act Technical Assistance Manager.

“When you have a better understanding of the aquifer system within these groundwater basins, it really helps local groundwater managers understand how water moves through the subsurface, and that way they can better identify areas where water can be recharged or stored, now or in the future,” Springhorn said.

Springhorn told KCBX News this data is important for policymakers, builders, and just regular people to have — especially during a drought.

“This information can be used by anyone who's interested in what is below their feet in these areas,” Springhorn said. “Whether it's to manage groundwater or understand where the groundwater is in these different layers below the surface, or if there's structures that'll be built within these groundwater basins — understanding what are these different layers and how that helps inform those construction projects, or different management projects in the basins.”

Springhorn said there are multiple ways to get involved with this process.

“We encourage residents to get involved with their groundwater management activities, whether that's understanding who their groundwater sustainability agencies are, or what these groundwater sustainability agencies have planned in their groundwater sustainability plan, and just really encourage that local connection and engagement in this groundwater management process,” Springhorn said.

For more information, you can visit water.ca.gov.

Benjamin Purper was News Director of KCBX from May of 2021 to September of 2023. He came from California’s Inland Empire, where he spent three years as a reporter and Morning Edition host at KVCR in San Bernardino. Dozens of his stories have aired on KQED’s California Report, and his work has broadcast on NPR's news magazines, as well. In addition to radio, Ben has worked as a newspaper reporter and freelance writer.
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