California is sinking as it sucks remaining water out of underground aquifers

Nearly everyone in the US depends on food crops grown in California, so farmers must continue to pull what little water remains in underground aquifers. This is causing the state to actually sink. It's been sinking for decades, but the problem is getting worse. Reveal News writes, "Last summer, scientists recorded the worst sinking in at least 50 years. This summer, all-time records are expected across the state as thousands of miles of land in the Central Valley and elsewhere sink."

As a result, the "sinking is starting to destroy bridges, crack irrigation canals and twist highways across the state, according to the U.S. Geological Survey."

Joseph Poland of the U.S. Geological Survey used a utility pole to document where a farmer would have been standing in 1925, 1955 and where Poland was then standing in 1977 after land in the San Joaquin Valley had sunk nearly 30 feet. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey


Joseph Poland of the U.S. Geological Survey used a utility pole to document where a farmer would have been standing in 1925, 1955 and where Poland was then standing in 1977 after land in the San Joaquin Valley had sunk nearly 30 feet. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

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  1. miasm says:

    FFS. Mightn't it be a little more cost effective to invest in some seriously heavy duty desalination technology R&D instead of, y'know, destroying the whole state?

  2. The issue is that California's current market-basket of agricultural enterprises simply doesn't fit the climate anymore. There is a downside to having too much of -anything- in one place. Too many creatures, you get starvation. Too many heavy elements, you get nuclear fission. Too many people, you get Democrats :smile

    Any real policy remedies for groundwater depletion will have to change the market-basket of goods that California agriculture produces. If this means moving some agriculture elsewhere, then that's the sort of of change that needs to happen. You cannot simply continue pumping groundwater. Eventually, you'll get down to the saltwater, contaminate your wells, and destroy your land.

    Try farming somewhere else for a change

  3. Humans as a species gave the illusion of free will. "If we wanted to"(we say to ourselves)"We could control our numbers, stop a runaway greenhouse effect,only use the water we have available, et cetera." These seem like plausible statements, because as individuals we make those kind of long term self preservation choices all the time. Yet all existing data suggests that it's not a matter of being unwilling to act in our own collective best interest, we are actually incapable of doing so.

    This use of fossil water is a short term thing that is going to stop. If we were the rational beings we think we are, then we'd stop doing it in a logical, controlled way that leaves future generations with some options. But since we're actually unreasoning animals with no real concept of a collective future beyond our individual lives, this is only going to stop when the water runs out, and there are no more options for anyone. And the consequences will be every bit as bad as when unpredated deer on an island over graze their carrying capacity and have a massive die off as a result. It doesn't count that we could look ahead and forsee this future, it only counts that we didn't actually do anything about it.

    Humanity, I love you to pieces, but you really piss me the fuck off.

  4. Shuck says:

    Nope. The problem is that farmers can basically suck all the groundwater they want for free (excepting the cost of actually pumping it); desalination is prohibitively expensive enough for drinking water (where it's replacing treated water), much less for agricultural uses.
    Basically the farmers of the Central Valley are permanently fucking both themselves and residential water users there - the aquifers will never recover (at least in terms of civilizational time - they'll eventually refill in geologic time).

  5. Actually aquifer recharging is by far the most economical way of increasing water supplies and we do it in California. There are huge water banks which are just recharged aquifers many funded by Prop 13 in 2001 which was dedicated to it. They are substantially cheaper to build than dams or desalination projects which is why we built so many over the last couple decades.

    The most common way to recharge acquirers is to use recharge ponds to prevent rain prevent run off when it does rain. There is a huge amount of runoff that happens when it rains that is simply lost to evaporation or which runs into the sea, so this method is not only economical, but effectively free.

    Then there are injection wells which force water into the the ground. They require less land, but more energy.

    Typically we charge the aquifers during the high spring surface water flows from rivers and streams when the snow begins to melt since supply of water far outstrips demand. This water is effectively free. It would otherwise flow into the ocean.

    We also use waste water from agricultural runoff (which there is a lot of), stormwater systems and treated wastewater (also known as sewage). Treated wastewater for instance is being injected into aquifers in Santa Clara County and Orange County. Apparently, as long as you put your treated urine through the ground first, no one complains.

    A rather large $7.5 billion water bond was passed last year with a full $2.7 billion going to water storage and it looks like a good chunk of it will go to aquifer recharging since it is so much cheaper than building new reservoirs.

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