Quantcast

The Drought in California Is So Bad the Ground Is Literally Sinking

Climate

Vast stretches of California's Central Valley are sinking faster than in the past as the state continues to pump out massive amounts of groundwater during its epic drought, NASA said in a report released Wednesday. The Golden State has been forced to rely more and more on groundwater as it grapples with a four-year drought, record low snowpack and reservoirs that are running dangerously low.

The report found that some places are losing nearly two inches per month.

“Because of increased pumping, groundwater levels are reaching record lows—up to 100 feet lower than previous records,” said Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin. “As extensive groundwater pumping continues, the land is sinking more rapidly and this puts nearby infrastructure at greater risk of costly damage.”

Sinking land, or subsidence, has been a problem in California's Central Valley for decades as the state has had to rely on increasing amounts of groundwater. But now NASA data, which the agency obtained by comparing satellite images of the Earth’s surface over time, reveals the problem is the worst its ever been.

NASA says:

Land near Corcoran in the Tulare basin sank 13 inches in just eight months—about 1.6 inches per month. One area in the Sacramento Valley was sinking approximately half-an-inch per month, faster than previous measurements. NASA also found areas near the California Aqueduct sank up to 12.5 inches, with eight inches of that occurring in just four months of 2014.

The increased subsidence rates have the potential to damage local, state and federal infrastructure, including aqueducts, bridges, roads and flood control structures. Long-term subsidence has already destroyed thousands of public and private groundwater well casings in the San Joaquin Valley. Over time, subsidence can permanently reduce the underground aquifer’s water storage capacity.

In response to the findings, Gov. Brown's Drought Task Force has pledged to help local communities reduce subsidence, protect infrastructure and to better manage sustainable groundwater supplies. The Department of Water Resources will also launch a $10 million program to help communities with groundwater-stressed basins, or strengthen local ordinances or conservation plans.

And Californians aren't the only ones with that sinking feeling. Last week, a study showed parts of southern Arizona are sinking too. The U.S. Geological Survey has identified more than 17,000 square miles (an area the size of New Hampshire and Vermont combined) of land subsidence in 45 states.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Chloe & Theo: A Movie That Will Change the Way You Look at the World

4 Surprising Countries That Give You Hope for Climate Action

California Businesses Save Water in Style With #DroughtNotDrab

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Yulia Lisitsa / iStock / Getty Images

By Rachael Link, MS, RD

Many people follow the lacto-vegetarian diet for its flexibility and health benefits.

Read More Show Less

By Jared Kaufman

Eating a better diet has been linked with lower levels of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. But unfortunately 821 million people — about 1 in 9 worldwide — face hunger, and roughly 2 billion people worldwide are overweight or obese, according to the U.N. World Health Organization. In addition, food insecurity is associated with even higher health care costs in the U.S., particularly among older people. To help direct worldwide focus toward solving these issues, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals call for the elimination of hunger, food insecurity and undernutrition by 2030.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
Healthline

Made from the freshly sprouted leaves of Triticum aestivum, wheatgrass is known for its nutrient-dense and powerful antioxidant properties.

Read More Show Less

mevans / E+ / Getty Images

The federal agency that manages the Great Barrier Reef issued an unprecedented statement that broke ranks with Australia's conservative government and called for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Guardian.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

A powerful earthquake struck near Athens, Greece and shook the capital city for 15 seconds on Friday, causing people to run into the streets to escape the threat of falling buildings, NBC News reported.

Read More Show Less
U.S. government scientists concluded in a new report that last month was the hottest June on record. Angelo Juan Ramos / Flickr

By Jessica Corbett

As meteorologists warned Thursday that temperatures above 100°F are expected to impact two-thirds of the country this weekend, U.S. government scientists revealed that last month was the hottest June ever recorded — bolstering calls for radical global action on the climate emergency.

Read More Show Less
Rod Waddington / CC BY-SA 2.0

By John R. Platt

For years now conservationists have warned that many of Madagascar's iconic lemur species face the risk of extinction due to rampant deforestation, the illegal pet trade and the emerging market for the primates' meat.

Yes, people eat lemurs, and the reasons they do aren't exactly what we might expect.

Read More Show Less