California State University, Long Beach
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Protecting Our Water

Published: March 17, 2014

In this part of the world, it is not a question of finding water; it is a question of protecting water.

Geological Science’s Matthew Becker, CSULB’s Conrey Endowed Chair in Hydrogeology, specializes in field research that helps to do that. The Los Angeles Basin sits atop several aquifers where water collects underground. Becker wants to know where the water comes and goes and finds his expertise tapped into by such public agencies as the Orange County Water District for research projects.

Becker keeps his thumb on the pulse of local aquifers using new technology such as fiber optic distributed temperature sensing or tried and true technology such as borehole drilling. His experimental fiber-optic sensors measure heat rather than water. “We’re using heat as a tracer of where the water is going,” explained the member of the university since 2008. “Rather than using dye or some other chemical tracer, we use the heat energy that is stored in the water. The recharge basins, sometimes called ‘spreading basins,’ warm up and cool down every day. We can use that to know how rapidly the water is infiltrating the basin.”

Fiber optic sensing generates tremendous amounts of data which means a big role for computers in Becker’s research.

“We’re measuring 5,000 temperature points every hour for months and you need pretty high-end computing software for that,” he said. “Besides learning how to do plumbing and fiber optic sensing and data logging, our students must know how to program in MATLAB. Our students need a wide range of skills to perform this research.”

Becker has worked with both the Los Angeles Water Replenishment District and the Orange County Water (OCWD) District. When the Water Replenishment District invites his class to observe their wells, Becker loads his students in vans and they drive to Lawndale or Carson. “I sit in on meetings of the OCWD’s ground water recharge working group and contribute ideas,” he added.

Becker has worked with OCWD Recharge Planning Manager Adam Hutchinson.

“Partnering with Dr. Becker and his students has allowed for the deployment of innovative technologies to examine how recharge works at the micro level, which in turn will help us increase the efficiency of the entire system over time,” said Hutchinson. “Shrinking budgets and increasing demands are putting pressures on the water sector overall to embrace innovation, integration and collaboration like never before. Our collaboration with Dr. Becker is a great example of what can happen when two stakeholders work closely together to solve serious issues in their community.”

Hutchinson underlined the vital role played by the OCWD’s recharge basins in providing water to the citizens of north and central Orange County. “An average of 65 percent of the groundwater supply is replenished every year through the recharge basins,” he said. “Developing a better understanding of how these facilities work is important so we can maximize their efficiency and increase the amount of water available to the region.”

Matthew Becker
Matthew Becker

Becker stressed the learning opportunities that accompany his research. He has projects ongoing in Italy, France and even on Easter Island but the local projects are special.

“My graduate students are all writing theses and it is wonderful for them to be able to do a research project right here at home,” he said. He noted that students find it especially rewarding to help protect the water supply for their family and neighbors. Becker earned his BS from Michigan State University in 1988 and his MS in 1990 and PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996.

Hutchinson added, “Research previously conducted in Mini-Anaheim Lake by Dr. Becker and Brian Bauer has been presented at technical conferences and was published in the journal Groundwater.”

Hutchinson believes that partnering with Becker is in keeping with the OCWD’s tradition of innovation. “Other agencies all around the world involved in recharging groundwater aquifers look to OCWD as an example of how to maximize recharge,” he said. “The research Dr. Becker is doing will not only assist OCWD but will also assist many other agencies involved in managed aquifer recharge. Continuous research, planning, designing, building and operations of cost-effective water projects have been core functions of OCWD for more than 80 years and are fundamental to helping our region sustain water supplies during drought conditions. Dr. Becker’s work is invaluable to these efforts.”

Field research will continue to play a role in Becker’s work. “I’m not a theoretical guy,” he said. “Models come and go but data lasts forever. This is well-collected, well-documented field data. It’s a joy to create something of value such as good, documented data.”