The San Joaquin Valley's natural water supply, always suibject to flood/drought fluctuations, has been plundered for a century by reckless and unaccountable agriculture that treats land, after the paradigm of the cotton industry, as a sterile medium to which one adds fertilizer and water to make money, until it all runs out. South of the Tehachapis, they add houses to what was once the richest agricultural county in the state, and beyond that county, they add houses to the desert.
It all takes water and California has over-committed its surface water and over-drafted its ground water since the Pat Brown administration created the state water project. What is more, state "leadership" has created a vast superstructure of quasi-accountable institutions and a legislature remorsely lobbied by every corporate interest but the Public Trust, committed to constant innovation of the best legal denial of the facts that finance, inusurance and real estate special interests can buy.
There is one exception to this harsh calculation. It is when Valley "farmers" appear in public, as they did recently when the general manager of the Merced Irrigation District appeared before the state Water Quality Control Board to protest a plan to take some river water from the district. There were the farmers, dressed in farmer clothes, jeans, boots, buckles and guts. The only question for one who knows the regions is: how many of the agro-whiners in the room weren't millionaires (at least on paper)? Perhaps Board Member Dee Dee d'Adamo, who knows them all, could tell us. At the political level, it is all too intimate.
On the other hand, at the ground-water level, a catastrophe is occurring that will have tragic consequences for the San Joaquin Valley. While "stakeholders groups" meet in each already exhausted ground water basin to divvy up imaginary levels of the remaining ground water under the auspices of the state's Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, the aquifers themselves collapse and the ground sinks. As the agro-whine rises to political sheiks for more surface storage (i.e. more dams on rivers that flow into the Central Valley), more underground-storage area is lost by the collapse of aquifers. Meanwhile, in this multi-stage ballet, the blameless west-side yeomen of the soil become water brokers, selling government subsidized irrigation water to metropolitan water districts at many multiples of the prices they paid for it.
So, the California Dream becomes the California Consequence: a society that lost its integrity in its water wars now collapsing from within and beneath.
Be sure to connect to the link below to see the excellent maps we don't reproduce. Among other things they show an interesting correlation between historical cotton ground and the most severe overdraft. -- blj
The Weather Network
Part of California is sinking, here’s where and why
Bottom of Form
Dr. Mario Picazo
Wednesday, September 5, 2018, 17:31 - Researchers from UCLA and the University of Houston have been tracking changes in the groundwater table that runs below California’s San Joaquin Central Valley. The study directed by UCLA’s Department of Geography Dennis Lettenmaier shows how between 2002 and 2016 there was a significant loss of groundwater from what is considered one of the largest agricultural hubs in the United States, as it provides more than half of the country’s fruit, vegetable and nut supply.
The period used in this study published last year in Geophysical Research Letters, included two droughts, one from 2007 to 2009 and a more severe dry period from 2012 to 2016. During the two drought periods a total of 13.3 cubic miles of water were lost. Most of the loss came from a reduction in precipitation and snowmelt, a change in the type of crops and warmer temperatures.
According to Dr. Lettenmaier, “the amount of material associated with the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens was about one cubic kilometer, so, we’re talking about 40 times that amount in the recent drought.”
SOME AREAS SINKING 2 INCHES PER MONTH
With the use of satellite imagery, NASA scientists have also discovered that the same region depleted from a large portion of its groundwater is sinking faster than originally thought. The recent images show how some areas of the state are sinking 2 inches (5.q centimeters) per month. This subsidence effect of the ground is not new, and has been a problem for quite some time, especially since the occurrence of the two major drought periods mentioned earlier. The extreme drought in such a vivid agricultural area has fueled prolonged voracious groundwater pumping.
Mark Cowin, director of California's Department of Water Resources, said in a past statement that due to the increase in water pumping, groundwater levels have been at record lows -- up to 100 feet (30 meters) lower than in past records. As a consequence, land is sinking faster, putting nearby infrastructure at risk with all the costs that may mean.
THE BIG CONCERN
But the main concern for scientists is the long term effect's this frantic pumping of groundwater may have. If the land continues to shrink at the current rate, and for a considerable period, it can permanently lose its capacity to store water.
Although this has been going on for years as a consequence of increasing water demand for agriculture, United States Geological Survey reports show how some areas of the California's Central Valley are now close to a dozen feet lower than they were back in 1925.
Although precipitation both in the form and rain and snow improved the groundwater conditions in 2017, the drought has returned, and groundwater pumping has again increased leading to more subsidence episodes.
Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Researchers Kyle Murray and Rowena Lohman from the University of Cornell, have collaborated the findings of others confirming that after a pause in the land subsidence and even an uplift in some areas thanks to the recent rains, the sinking is back. Like many other regions in the western U.S., ongoing groundwater extraction is happening faster than it can be replenished.
About 80 percent of the groundwater use in California is agricultural, and since 2011, the persistent drought periods experienced by the state have led to a considerable parching of the Central California valley.
Groundwater is incredibly important to communities in the region both for agricultural and municipal reasons. The sinking observed is a clear sign of how much groundwater is being pumped out of the ground.