IRVINE and PASADENA ( — New research shows California’s drought situation is much worse than officials realize.

Scientists at Jet Propulsion Lab and UC Irvine say the findings are shocking.

Around 60 percent of the water used in Southern California is imported from mountains and rivers and stored in reservoirs.

The other 40 percent comes from water sources underground called aquifers, which are like giant lakes under the soil. Every valley or basin in the area has one.

“We found about 40 million-acre feet of groundwater was depleted over our nine-year study. So that’s equivalent to trillions of gallons of water. It can provide enough water for all the homes in Southern California for up to six years,” said Stephanie Castle, of UCI Water Resources.

She said the rate is nothing short of alarming.

JPL used satellites to track the dramatic changes in the aquifers.

Reservoirs can be refilled quickly when it rains or snow but aquifers cannot. If they’re drained dry they can be lost forever.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for a moderate El Niño this winter, but it’s not expected to bring heavy amounts of rain.

The situation is complicated by the fact that California is one of the only states in the country that doesn’t control who can tap groundwater and how much they can take. The state has no clue how much is still available.

“It would be like if you had a bank account: Would you draw money out of it without knowing how much money was in there? I don’t think so,” Castle said.

There are calls in Sacramento to better manage and protect groundwater.

“I think policy might be changing in the drought. People are talking about it. I have hope that we will manage water better in the future,” Castle said.