And these are the smart ones! -- blj
Merced County is sinking; researchers blame over-pumping of groundwater…J.N. Sbranti, Modesto Bee. Fresno Bee reporter Mark Grossi contributed to this report.
LOS BANOS — So much groundwater is being pumped from the San Joaquin Valley that it’s causing a massive swath of Merced County’s surface to sink at an alarming rate, U.S. Geological Survey researchers revealed Thursday.
Parts of Merced south of El Nido dropped more than 21 inches in just two years. That area – often called Red Top by locals – appears to be continuing to sink at a rate of nearly 1 foot per year.
Researchers warn that the area that’s sinking is gradually spreading across 1,200 square miles – from the cities of Merced on the north, to Los Banos on the west, Madera on the east and Mendota on the south.
That’s a much larger region than previous studies had ever documented.
USGS officials said they fear sinking ground levels will wreak havoc on economically vital man-made structures like the Delta-Mendota Canal, the California Aqueduct and irrigation canals that serve Merced and Madera counties.
The sinking soil – called subsidence – also could damage dams, roads, railroads, pipes and bridges.
The problem area includes part of the San Joaquin River and most of the Eastside Bypass, which is the primary flood control channel east of the river.
“A foot a year of subsidence (near El Nido) is a very rapid rate,” said Michelle Sneed, the USGS hydrologist who was the lead author of the new report. “I think that’s alarming.”
Sneed said that’s “among the fastest subsidence rates ever measured in the San Joaquin Valley.”
The land closer to Merced and Los Banos hasn’t sunk as much. Sneed said it may be sinking by about one-half inch per year, so people may not have realized it’s happening.
Subsidence moving north
Back in the 1950s, there was dramatic subsidence in parts of Madera County, but that stopped once the California Aqueduct went in.
That aqueduct and the Delta-Mendota Canal were built to supply farmers surface water, which was supposed to reduce groundwater pumping.
But pumping apparently has increased so much that groundwater levels have fallen to new lows in Merced County. Sneed said that’s causing layers of clay to collapse beneath the surface, which is compressing the land above. Once that happens, the aquifers can never be refilled.
“The subsidence is permanent,” Sneed warned.
That’s bad news for future groundwater reserves. It’s also bad for surface water supplies.
USGS researchers warn that sinking ground is reducing the capacity of canals that transport floodwater and deliver water to agriculture, cities, industry and wildlife refuges. They predict falling surface levels could cause infrastructure damage in local communities, too.
Solution: Stop pumping
“To stop subsidence, groundwater levels have to stop being lowered,” Sneed said. “If I was queen bee, I would say that would be the thing to do.”
Among the things that seems to be causing overdraft of Merced’s aquifer, is that farmers have changed what they grow.
“We are finding that row crops are decreasing and more permanent crops are being planted,” Sneed noted.
That includes trees – especially almonds and pistachios – and grape vineyards, all of which need water whether it’s a wet year or dry year. Sneed said land used for row crops, by contrast, can be allowed to go fallow during droughts.
“There are a lot more permanent crops” in that Red Top area, confirmed Chase Hurley, general manager of the San Luis Canal Co. in Dos Palos. “They’re pumping too much water from the deep aquifer and causing subsidence.”
Hurley’s privately owned mutual water company supplies San Joaquin River water to 45,000 acres of Merced County farmland west of El Nido. But the land under his company’s diversion dam has sunk so much the last five years that it soon may be too low for gravity to work to supply his canals.
“If we don’t get this subsidence under control,” Hurley warned, “I’m going to have to build a $10 million pumping plant (to move the river water).”
Hurley’s company has started working with Red Top landowners who use groundwater to nurture nearly 30,000 acres of farmland. He’s trying to find alternatives for them so they’ll reduce pumping from the deep aquifer.
Hurley said those farmers, most of whom are in Madera County, don’t currently have access to surface water, but that might be one option to stop them from draining down the groundwater basin and triggering subsidence.
Merced County farmer Cannon Michael questioned the wisdom of growers who plant permanent crops, like nut trees, on land that has no access to river or canal water. With no surface water, Michael said, growers must pump groundwater to keep trees alive.
“Once you’ve made the investment, you have a hard demand for water,” Michael explained. “It’s not sustainable.”
Michael said sinking ground levels is damaging Merced County canals and dams. He said subsiding land has lowered the government-owned Sack Dam on the San Joaquin River near Dos Palos, making it necessary to rebuild.
Public agencies also pumping
But individual farmers are not the only ones pumping groundwater: Cities like Merced and the Merced Irrigation District do it, too.
And despite this week’s rain, the valley has been in a drought for two years. That’s reduced runoff from the Sierra Nevada, which normally provides surface water to farmers in the Merced Irrigation District.
To compensate for reduced runoff, that irrigation district – which recently annexed El Nido – has substantially increased pumping from its 180 wells.
Hicham El Tal, the Merced Irrigation District’s deputy general manager, said his district normally pumps about 6,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year. But this year it pumped nearly 55,000 acre-feet.
“The MID cannot fix the groundwater basin alone,” said El Tal, noting how his district only serves about 20 percent of the Merced basin. “The only thing we could do is stop pumping groundwater … and that would cause even more damage (to the aquifer).”
El Tal predicted that if Merced farmers cannot buy enough water from their irrigation district, they will drill their own wells instead. And once they start pumping, El Tal said they’ll pump far more than his district ever has.
“Once they drill their own wells … they’ll not come back to the MID for water even during wet years,” said El Tal, who fears that would further deplete Merced County’s aquifer.
Over-pumping of San Joaquin Valley aquifers has caused subsidence for decades, but that trouble primarily had been south of Merced County.
Sneed said she was surprised to discover the problem’s epicenter has shifted north toward El Nido.
Falling ground levels between 1926 and 1970 in the Madera County community of Mendota convinced state and federal agencies to start importing surface water to that region. Initially that helped groundwater levels there recover.
Court-mandated and drought-related reductions in surface-water deliveries since 1976, however, have led to increased groundwater pumping, which the USGS report said has caused historic low groundwater levels in some areas.
Additional land sinking
Researchers found the subsidence rate doubled in 2008 in some areas around the Delta-Mendota Canal, which weaves through Merced and Madera counties. They said that’s when water levels in many of that region’s deep wells started hitting historic lows.
So the USGS used satellite technology to measure the declines.
Comparing images and data from 2008 with 2010, they measured the subsidence and discovered the bowl of depression is much larger than originally believed. Sneed said additional research and observations indicate the land continued to compact at alarming rates in 2011 and 2012.
“It seems to be occurring during non-drought years, too,” Sneed said.
That sinking land is buckling and damaging the canals built on the surface, according to the federally funded researchers.
They warn that such large-scale and rapid subsidence could cause significant operational and structural challenges for California’s water delivery infrastructure, which brings water from the north to the south to nurture thirsty cropland and cities.
Reliable water deliveries may be jeopardized because of it, the researchers concluded.
“The USGS report was commissioned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to learn more about the challenges we face due to subsidence. It will help us take additional proactive measures to ensure efficient delivery of water to the San Joaquin Valley,” explained David Murillo, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific regional director.
To help public agencies and resource managers minimize risk and damage to California’s infrastructure, the USGS is studying and providing information on groundwater conditions and land subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley.
Researchers said availability of surface water remains uncertain, so the potential for future subsidence is high.
The USGS uses a range of monitoring techniques to continually measure ground displacement, groundwater levels and aquifer compaction. That information, they said, can be used to develop simulation models of groundwater flow and land subsidence, which can be used to help manage the groundwater and limit future subsidence in the Valley.
The new USGS report is called “Land subsidence along the Delta-Mendota Canal in the northern part of the San Joaquin Valley, California, 2003-10: USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2013–5142,” by Michelle Sneed, Justin Brandt and Mike Solt.
A copy of it is posted at www.modbee.com/groundwater.
Record Sales And Revenue For Blue Diamond Almond Growers
MODESTO, Calif., Nov. 20, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Blue Diamond Growers' global almond sales soared to $1.2 billion, up $189 million in fiscal year 2012-13. Value-added sales volume increased by 14 percent, even with a crop that was 7 percent smaller, according to President and CEO Mark Jansen who addressed the cooperative's grower owners at their 103rd annual meeting. Value-added sales now represent more than 60 percent of the co-op's revenue, including manufactured ingredients and consumer retail products.
"We accelerated our transformation into a global branded food manufacturing company, while making significant investments to ensure continued profitable growth. In April we opened our Almond Innovation Center on our Sacramento campus followed by the June grand opening of our Turlock plant, the largest single investment in the history of the California almond industry," said Jansen. "We will lead the world tree nut industry in almond product innovation and double our capacity with cutting edge plant technology designed for producing the highest quality almond products in the world."
"There's no other way to express the 2012 crop results than to say, 'excellence delivered,'" said Chairman of the Board Clinton Shick, a grower from McFarland. "This is the third year in a row for returning record revenue per acre to Blue Diamond growers. The 2012 crop exceeded the 2011 record by 21 percent, making the final total grower payment of $828 million the largest single payment ever made to almond growers!"
Margin enhancement projects included improved manufacturing yields and faster processing lines, resulting in cost reductions of $11.3 million, for a three-year compounded savings of $38 million. "Margin enhancements fuel our investments in new facilities, breakthrough advertising, and global markets," Jansen explained. "It also allows us to pay our growers industry-leading returns."
Energized by enhanced advertising investments and new products, sales thrived in 2012-13. In North America, the branded consumer business increased 30 percent to $469 million. Over 15 new products emerged that included Iced Coffee Almond Breeze, Artisan Nut*Thins and coffee and fruit flavored snack almonds. Snack Almond sales jumped 22 percent versus prior year, while Chilled Almond Breeze sales skyrocketed 74 percent and Aseptic Almond Breeze climbed 40 percent. Artisan Nut*Thins were up 38 percent over the same period.
Sales are expected to stay firm as Blue Diamond partners with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association to be the official snack nut of the U.S. Ski, Snowboarding and Freeskiing Teams as they prepare for the Winter Olympics Season in 2014. Blue Diamond Almonds will be integrated into the athletes' nutritional meals at the USSA Center of Excellence and on the road at training camps, competitions and the U.S. Team's mobile kitchen in Europe.
Internationally, Blue Diamond's branded sales were up 90 percent in volume versus the prior year, while net sales were up 95 percent. For the first time in the cooperative's history, branded advertising aired on three continents — North America, Australiaand Europe.
Blue Diamond Global Ingredients sold fewer commodity almonds in a short crop, but still managed to grow its manufactured ingredient business volume by 14 percent. This business has doubled in size over the last four years.
"I am most proud of the employees of Blue Diamond," said Jansen. "We often use the metaphor of a duck on the water. Above the water or outside the organization, the changes they execute may look easy. Under the water, or inside the organization, their feet are vigorously paddling. The fact is they work hard delivering the benefits of almonds to the world."
SOURCE Blue Diamond Growers
Delta Stewardship Council
The United States Geologic Survey today (Nov. 21) released its latest report showing that “extensive groundwater pumping from San Joaquin Valley aquifers is increasing the rate of land subsidence, or sinking. This large-scale and rapid subsidence has the potential to cause serious damage to the water delivery infrastructure” such as the state and federal water systems and local irrigation canals.
Statement of Phil Isenberg, Chair, Delta Stewardship Council
This report reinforces the urgency of understanding and better managing California’s groundwater basins. The amount and widespread nature of the subsidence found by the USGS is truly alarming and shows that cutbacks in surface water deliveries because of drought or environmental concerns cannot sustainably be replaced or exceeded by continual groundwater extractions.
The report also underscores the urgency of actions and recommendations included in the draft California Water Action Plan (http://resources.ca.gov/docs/Final_Water_Action_Plan.pdf) and the Delta Stewardship Council’s recently adopted Delta Plan(http://deltacouncil.ca.gov/delta-plan-0).
The dramatically dropping groundwater levels and increasing land subsidence found by the USGS in a large portion of the San Joaquin Valley illustrate the problem; fixing it requires understanding the limitations of individual groundwater basins and willingness to manage groundwater pumping sustainably. Historically the state has treated groundwater management as a local issue; however, the USGS report shows that those local jurisdictions must do a better job quickly.
The Delta Plan recommends updating the state’s groundwater plan next year (by Dec. 31, 2014) to determine sustainable yield and overdraft conditions. In the same timeframe, water suppliers that receive water from the Delta should develop and implement sustainable groundwater management plans.
The Delta Plan further recommends that if local or regional agencies fail to develop and implement these plans, the State Water Resources Control Board should take action to determine if the continued overuse of a groundwater basin constitutes a violation of the State’s Constitution Article X, Section 2, prohibition on unreasonable use of water and whether a groundwater adjudication is necessary to prevent the destruction of or irreparable injury to the quality of the groundwater, consistent with Water Code sections 2100 and 2101.