California’s drought has caused entire towns to sink nearly a foot in just one year. This map shows where

California is sinking due to drought! Measures of land subsidence in San Joaquin Valley
California is sinking due to drought! Measures of land subsidence in San Joaquin Valley. Credit: USGS

The ground is sinking in parts of California as the continued drought strains reservoirs, increasing reliance on the state’s already precarious groundwater reserves depleted by years of well-pumping.

In just one year, from October 2020 to September 2021, satellite-based estimates showed entire towns in the Central Valley, including in Kings and Tulare counties, sinking by nearly a foot. The maximum loss recorded during that time was 1.1 feet on the northwestern edge of Tulare County.

The sinking, known as land subsidence, happens when excessive pumping dries out the water reserves underground and collapses the space where water used to be. Experts say it’s a century-old problem in California that regulators have tried to slow with sustainability measures. But with the changing climate, they face an uphill battle.

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It’s a latent issue that’s been building over a long time and we’re kind of seeing a lot of fallout from that,” said Andrew Ayres, an environmental resources and economics researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan public policy think tank.

Land subsidence threatens infrastructure, including roads and canals, he said. Damage from it led to a $3.3 million repair project at the Delta Mendota canal in San Joaquin Valley, which delivers water to 1.2 million acres of farmland and 2 million people in the region. The repair project, the funding for which was announced April this year, is part of a larger effort by the state water department to address deficiencies in California’s water conveyance systems.

As we pump groundwater out of the aquifer, the water exists in these spaces between various layers and pieces of rock,” Ayres said. “If you pump out enough water, those places will get compressed and this leads to a loss in long-term storage.

California is sinking due to drought
California is sinking because of the drought and the drying of aquifers. Picture via map SFChronicle

Even if an aquifer is recharged with rain or otherwise, it won’t be able to hold as much water as it used to, Ayres added. That means, increasingly, accessing water is going to be more difficult and costly.

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You’re using water today that you’re not going to have available to you in the future,” he said.

It might be impossible to access any remaining groundwater supplies,” he added.

The problem existed long before major infrastructure and sustainability requirements were put in place. The US Geological Survey says between the 1920s and 1970s, significant land subsidence occurred in about half of the San Joaquin Valley, or about 5,200 square miles, with some areas subsiding by as much as 28 feet.

The continued depletion of groundwater reserves, especially in drought years, is worrisome because of groundwater’s critical role as a buffer when there’s little rain or snowpack to replenish the state’s many surface water resources, like reservoirs.

In drought years, (groundwater) can make up to 60% of the state’s water supply,” said Steven Springhorn, a supervising engineering geologist for the water department. That’s in comparison to about 40% in non-drought years.

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When major surface water sources, such as the State Water Project, can’t deliver enough water during drought, local water agencies must find alternative sources of water, such as by pumping from the ground or buying. The State Water Project is a massive system of dams and canals (similar to the Central Valley Project). It delivers water to about 27 million people, including farmers as well as city-dwellers.

The State Water Project announced it expects to provide just 5% of the water requested by contractors in the coming year.

This year, we don’t have any surface water to provide to our growers,” said Kristin Sicke, general manager of the Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, which provides irrigation water to farmers in western Yolo County, as well as delivering water to dozens of smaller municipal and industrial customers.

But the groundwater situation is also dire. Sicke said the district is anticipating record-low groundwater levels this year — beyond the historical low point set during the 1976-77 drought, she said.

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Many wells, not just in western Yolo County but across the state, are reporting similarly grim groundwater levels. As of early May, more than 60% wells in California that reported data within the past year indicated below normal levels of water, data shows.

This is a problem, especially for rural communities that tend not to have very deep wells,” said Ayres, of the policy research group. “It’s also a problem for ag users who, you know, maybe drilled a well 15 years ago when groundwater tables were a lot higher than they are today.

There was heavier reliance on pumping in the past before key sustainability measures, such as the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2015, created tighter regulations around groundwater, he said. Much of the most persistent overdraft happened then, and the long term consequences will continue to play out.

In recent years, many farmers are choosing to fallow ground without planting instead of resorting to well-pumping, he said. “In part, that’s because they kind of see the writing on the wall and are acting to control the negative impacts on the groundwater aquifer. In other cases, it’s because groundwater sustainability agencies have already adopted a constraint on how much groundwater people can pump, so they don’t have an option.

Without water, crops can’t grow, said Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. The uncertainty of future conditions will look makes securing water supply more challenging. “Not knowing if this is year three of three or year three of 10 makes it more difficult for preparation purposes.

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Farmers, too, are seeking sustainable solutions, including investing in sophisticated technology for efficiency. “There’s definitely been a very large push to utilize every drop possible.

The scarcity of water underscores the importance of monitoring groundwater, said Springhorn of the water department. Rigorous monitoring helps inform drought response and advanced planning as water agencies and agricultural communities navigate drought. Among the efforts to protect groundwater reserves include improved monitoring of groundwater systems, Springhorn of the water department said.

Sicke, the water manager in Yolo County, said her agency may need to reconsider its revenue structure, which currently relies more on surface water availability, should these prolonged drought conditions turn out to be the “new normal” for the state.

But for now, Sicke said she remains hopeful for a natural recovery. “We have seen the recovery historically when rain has come. We’re trying not to forget. Right now, it’s hard.

With those underground cavities (dry aquifers) forming across California, homeowners the risk of SINKHOLES will increase dramatically… Like in Florida… [SFChronicle] is now running ad-free CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT MY WORK… I will send you a small gemstone if you give more than 25$… Thanks in advance!

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  1. The ground underneath california is being tunneled, in order to make it sink. California will collapse and go down under the ocean.

  2. Anybody consider that these dry acquirers have sides that collapse.Lets say a side of one is on a fault and possibly sets it off.
    Consider that Cali has volcanic potential.Some still are somewhat active.This also
    could speed the drying up of the water.
    Also could allow magma to reach up into some of the dry acquifers.Sorry can’t give the exact stats
    I know it’s very possible just don’t know the likelyhood

  3. The Bible tells us that in the end days, the things we see happening in this world would lead up to the pouring out of our Creator’s WRATH. But first, He will come to the outer edges of this time/space continuum and call out those who love Him; those who have confessed their sins and accepted their need of a Savior. Millions (not billions, not even close) will rise up to meet Jesus Christ in the clouds of Heaven (His Domain) in their new, immortal bodies which will be LIKE the body of Jesus Christ Himself and so we will be with the Lord forever and ever after this event.

    What comes on this earth after that is scarcely able to be put into words. BILLIONS will die as God pours out His wrath on a world which has rejected Him (all those who have NOT rejected Him will be gone from this earth, even those dead who died as forgiven and Christ committed persons will rise up to meet Him, even before we who are alive do so)

    The time is fast approaching in which the kings of the earth, [and presidents] and the great men, and the rich men, [Gates, Soros and others] and the chief captains [Generals of all military branches] and the mighty men…will hide in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains [tunnels] and will say to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? Revelation 6:15-17 KJV

  4. It is the geoengineering. They are destroying the planet on purpose. If we can’t stop them, let’s hope the planet decides to give them the same treatment. With hope they won’t have a leg to stand on, or a place to stand.

  5. The Pacific Ocean has plenty of water. Desalinization works. The political buffoons would rather have a water crisis, so they can control the people. They’re evil fcknuts, tyrants, and perverts. Electroverse site says we are entering a cooling period now too. So it’s time to build those desalinization plants, or die off from procrastination.

  6. Geoengineering. Weather Wars. Another way to destroy the biggest bread-basket in the US. The aquifers are not getting replenished like they used to. No rain, no snowpack = no water. Look into the sky. There’s your answer as to why.

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