Many areas in the U.S. are experiencing droughts this summer but California is one of the areas which is being hit the hardest, experiencing one of its worst dry spells on record. This drought has led to some unfortunate repercussions in central California, where the increased demand on groundwater has actually caused the ground to sink.Some areas of the San Joaquin Valley, the backbone of California’s vast agricultural industry, are subsiding at the fastest rates ever measured, said Michelle Sneed, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist.
Sneed’s report on these new findings points out that while the bulk of the sinking 1,200-square-mile area in central California is subsiding only about an inch a year, one 2-square-mile area Sneed studied is subsiding almost a foot annually. At that pace, “lots of infrastructure can’t handle such rapid subsidence,” Sneed said, including roads, water canals, and pipelines. The drought is likely to exacerbate the situation, as less rain drives more pumping.
As if the ground sinking was not a big enough problem on its own, the sinking is leading to other problems, namely increased flood risk is some areas, which, fortunately, are sparsely populated. This increased risk is occurring because portions of the area’s flood control system have sunk, reducing their ability to contain floodwater.
Local flood officials are crafting emergency plans for when big rains return. Other canals and dams that deliver water to irrigate the fields of hundreds of growers are also losing capacity as parts of them sink. On top of all these issues is the fact that the groundwater space which is lost due to sinking cannot be regained, meaning the area will never again be able to store that much ground water. In the end, it is a vicious cycle as the drought leads to less water being available for the farmers to grow their crops, which has led to over use of the groundwater, which causes the water table to sink, causing the ground to sink with it.
The sinking of the ground causes sinking of the canals, which leads to even less water—so this is a very major issue especially for farmers whose crops are dying due to limited water. The ground sinking and need for water has been an issue before in this area. The issue was previously solved by pumping from large federal and state water projects built in the 1950s and 1970s that are fed by Sierra Nevada snowpack. However, they’re now getting less of that water, as the snowpack has diminished and more water goes to sustain critical habitat for endangered species. Residents of the area have now had to become completely reliant on groundwater. Unfortunately, even after the drought is over, all the damage it has caused in this area will remain.