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The Key to California’s Survival Is Hidden Underground

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Water is urban planners’ nemesis. Because the built environment is so impervious to liquid, thanks to all that asphalt, concrete, and brick, water accumulates instead of seeping into the ground. That’s how you get the extreme flooding that has plagued California for weeks, so far killing 19 people and causing perhaps $30 billion in damages.

Traditionally, engineers have treated stormwater as a nuisance, building out complex infrastructure like drains and canals to funnel the deluge to rivers or oceans before it has a chance to puddle. But in California and elsewhere, climate change is forcing a shift in that strategy. As the world warms, more water evaporates from land into the atmosphere, which itself can hold more water as it gets hotter. Storms in the Golden State will come less frequently, yet dump more water faster when they arrive. Stormwater drainage systems just can’t get the water away fast enough.

To prepare for this soggy future, engineers are turning to another plan for flood control, forcing water to seep underground into natural aquifers. Such a plan will…



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