News Feature | December 4, 2013

California Sinking Caused By Groundwater Withdrawal

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


A California region is sinking quickly due to the amount of groundwater getting pumped out of the area.

Extensive pumping from San Joaquin Valley aquifers "is increasing the rate of land subsidence, or sinking," according to a recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a federal agency. 

This could be tough for the regional water industry. 

"This large-scale and rapid subsidence has the potential to cause serious damage to the water delivery infrastructure that brings water from the north of the valley to the south where it helps feed thirsty cropland and cities," the report said. 

Governor Jerry Brown said he has a plan to confront the issue, according to KTVU.  He is expected to release it this month. In the mean time, the problem is getting worse.

"Researchers warn the deepening sinkhole now is 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," the Fresno Bee reported

Future groundwater supplies are under threat as a result of the sinking. 

"When aquifers are being depleted, layers of clay collapse beneath the surface. That causes compression of the land above. Once that happens, the aquifers can never be refilled," the Bee said. The problem could also hurt irrigations canals and aqueducts in the area, USGS officials said. 

Agriculture is partly to blame for the amount of groundwater pumping. Farmers are pumping extra groundwater "to support crop expansions,” the Bee reported. 

Drought is making the problem worse.

"In dry years, limits on surface water use increases pumping of ground water," the Associated Press reported

Check out previous Water Online coverage of drought in California.

Image credit: "Acueducto 2," © 2005 Omar Omar, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license:

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