The front page feature of today’s Oregonian (Portland’s major newspaper) features research on groundwater in the Cascades: The secret’s out: Tons of water in Oregon’s Cascades.
Scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State University have in recent years quietly realized that the high Cascades in Oregon and far Northern California contain an immense subterranean reservoir about as large as the biggest man-made reservoirs in the country.
The secret stockpile stores close to seven years’ worth of Oregon rain and snow and is likely to become increasingly precious, even priceless, as population and climate add pressure to water supplies.
The reservoir hides within young volcanic rock — less than 1 million years old — in the highest reaches of the Cascades. The rock is so full of cracks and fissures it forms a kind of vast geological sponge. Heavy rain and snow falling on the rock percolate into the sponge, like a river filling a reservoir.
“It’s not just the fact we get a lot of rain in Oregon that gives us copious amounts of water,” says Gordon Grant, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station leading the research. “It’s the unique geology — the plumbing system — that allows us to retain much of it.”