Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Drought Runs Central Valley Towns into the Ground ... Literally

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

California Drought Runs Central Valley Towns into the Ground ... Literally

Article excerpt

The record-breaking drought in California has led to a sinking feeling in the Golden State's Central Valley.

Thirsty residents of the valley have extracted increasing amounts of groundwater from the aquifer underneath the terrain in the region, which new data from NASA scientists say has led to some towns sinking at a rate of two feet per year.

"We are pumping at historic levels," said Mark Cowin, head of the California Department of Water Resources.

Researchers say this sinking - also known as subsidence - puts vital infrastructure like bridges, roads, and canals at risk. Scientists with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory measured the new rate of sinking by using images taken from satellites and airplanes.

While the rapid rate of groundwater extraction has led to sinking land in recent years, the new data gathered by researchers suggest that the rate of subsidence is happening at a quicker pace. Groundwater levels are also at record lows, with measurements of up to 100 feet lower than previously marked. The Central Valley, which is home to a large portion of the nation's food crop, uses twice as much water as is naturally being replaced by rain and snow.

But even the increasing rate of groundwater drafting has not been enough to stave off the effect of the drought on farming. Around one- fifth more land is out of production this year when compared with last year.

The NASA data shows part of the massive California Aqueduct dropping eight inches in four months last year. The water source supplies millions of people and acres upon acres of farmland. Because of issues with subsidence, farmers in the Central California Irrigation District have been spending millions to raise canal walls and erect bridges.

"It's a vivid picture of what subsidence can do," said Christopher White, manager of the district that serves 1,900 farmers, who grow tomatoes, cotton, fruit, almonds, and other crops in three counties, in an interview with the Associated Press. …

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