• California is sinking, and it's getting worse

    From Pay The Piper@21:1/5 to All on Mon Mar 6 02:43:08 2017
    XPost: alt.california, sac.politics, ca.water
    XPost: alt.politics.democrats

    California is sinking – and fast.

    While the state’s drought-induced sinking is well known, new
    details highlight just how severe it has become and how little
    the government has done to monitor it.

    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.

    But the extent of the problem and how much it will cost
    taxpayers to fix are part of the mystery of the state’s
    unfolding drought. No agency is tracking the sinking statewide,
    little public money has been put toward studying it and
    California allows agriculture businesses to keep crucial parts
    of their operations secret.

    The cause is known: People are pulling unsustainable amounts of
    water out of underground aquifers, primarily for food
    production. With the water sucked out to irrigate crops, a
    practice that has accelerated during the drought, tens of
    thousands of square miles are deflating like a leaky air
    mattress, inch by inch.

    Groundwater now supplies about 60 percent of the state’s water,
    with the vast majority of that going to agriculture. Tens of
    thousands of groundwater pumps run day and night, sucking up
    about 5 percent of the state’s total electricity, according to a
    Reveal analysis of the increased pumping resulting from the
    historic drought. That’s an increase of 40 percent over normal
    years – or enough electricity to power every home in San
    Francisco for three years.

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

    Two bridges in Fresno County – an area that produces about 15
    percent of the world’s almonds – have sunk so much that they are
    nearly underwater and will cost millions to rebuild. Nearby, an
    elementary school is slowly descending into a miles-long
    sinkhole that will make it susceptible to future flooding.

    Private businesses are on the hook, too. One canal system is
    facing more than $60 million in repairs because one of its dams
    is sinking. And public and private water wells are being bent
    and disfigured like crumpled drinking straws as the earth
    collapses around them – costing $500,000 or more to replace.

    The sinking has a technical name: subsidence. It occurs when
    aquifers are drained of water and the land collapses down where
    the water used to be.

    The last comprehensive survey of sinking was in the 1970s, and a
    publicly funded monitoring system fell into disrepair the
    following decade. Even the government’s scientists are in the

    “We don’t know how bad it is because we’re not looking
    everywhere,” said Michelle Sneed, a hydrologist with the
    geological survey. “It’s frustrating, I’ll tell you that. There
    is a lot of work I want to do.”

    Some places in the state are sinking more than a foot per year.
    The last time it was this bad, it cost the state more than a
    billion dollars to fix.

    How a legendary hydrologist solved the mystery
    In the 1920s, farmers began transforming desert lands into
    verdant crop fields by pumping groundwater to the surface. At
    the time, these farmers were not just head and shoulders above
    their modern-day counterparts – they were actually as much as
    three stories above them. But then the land started to sink.

    In the 1930s, scientists first noticed the land was sinking. At
    the time, the cause was a mystery. A legendary hydrologist,
    Joseph Poland, was assigned to solve the puzzle starting in the

    He realized that underneath the sinking land, groundwater was
    being pumped rapidly to irrigate crops. It created massive
    sinkholes that stretched for miles in every direction. In the
    farming community of Mendota, the land sunk about 30 feet
    between 1925 and 1977.

    The sinkhole is so vast that it is essentially impossible for
    residents to see that they are standing in one. Poland used a
    utility pole to build a temporary monument to show them just how
    much the land had sunk.

    The sinking, which peaked in the late 1960s, wreaked havoc on
    the state’s rapidly expanding infrastructure, damaging highways,
    bridges and irrigation canals. One estimate by the California
    Water Foundation put the price tag at $1.3 billion for just some
    of the repairs during that time.

    The sinking did not slow until the 1970s, after California had
    completed its massive canal system – the most expensive public
    works project in state history. It delivered water from wetter
    parts of the state to farmers in the Central Valley and
    elsewhere, relieving their reliance on groundwater. The problem
    was fixed – at least for a while.

    ‘When we looked back, whoa – it had gotten bad’
    In 2012, Sneed, the hard-charging geological survey scientist,
    received a startling report. Land was subsiding along the San
    Joaquin River at a rate worse than during the 1987-92 drought.
    It was nearing the historic rates of sinking recorded by Poland
    in the late 1960s. She couldn’t believe it.

    “Is this even real?” she asked. “We hadn’t seen rates of
    subsidence like that in a long time.”

    She and others began assembling what little public data was
    available. They got funding to analyze satellite data for parts
    of the San Joaquin Valley. They discovered that in one of the
    worst observed areas, around the town of El Nido (Spanish for
    “The Nest”), land was sinking at a rate of about 1 foot per year
    in 2012.

    “It’s incredible,” Sneed said, expelling a puff of air as if she
    still couldn’t believe it. “We looked away for a long time. And
    when we looked back, whoa – it had gotten real bad.”

    The El Nido subsidence bowl was sinking so fast that the
    satellite couldn’t keep pace.

    No one has monitored it since. But Sneed and others contacted by
    Reveal said they expect it now could be sinking by 2 feet per
    year. That would be an all-time record.

    Chris White, general manager of the Central California
    Irrigation District, said that last year, a farmer near El Nido
    sent him a photo of a gas pipe that had protruded more than 18
    inches from the ground in less than a year as the land sank
    around it.

    White said Californians now might have the opportunity to
    witness firsthand the devastation Poland chronicled in the 1960s.

    “There is that potential,” he said.

    Sneed is practically begging to expand her limited research. A
    hodgepodge of about 350 ground-elevation monitors – many
    leftover from the 1960s – are all she and other researchers have
    to track tens of thousands of miles that are sinking. This
    includes vineyards in Sonoma and Napa counties, areas around
    Paso Robles and Santa Barbara, and agricultural regions
    encircling Los Angeles, all which have shown signs of sinking,
    according to a California Department of Water Resources report.

    To draw awareness to the problem, Sneed replicated Poland’s 1977
    photo. Her photo captures the early stages of today’s worsening
    subsidence problem, she said. But she and others expect that it
    will get much worse.

    Bridges are sinking and canals are cracking
    Many businesses and state agencies appear to be unaware of the

    Sneed and her boss at the U.S. Geological Survey, Claudia Faunt,
    have tried reaching out to various government agencies and
    private businesses to warn them and inquire about the extent of
    damage being done to infrastructure.

    “We tried calling the railroads to ask them about it,” Faunt
    said. “But they didn’t know about subsidence. They told us they
    just fixed the railroads and categorized it as repair.”

    Thousands of miles of highways snaking through the state also
    are being damaged, she said.

    “They go to repair the roads, but they don’t even know it’s
    subsidence that is causing all the problems,” Faunt said. “They
    are having to fix a lot because of groundwater depletion.”

    A spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation said
    the agency does not track costs related to subsidence and was
    not aware of any current bridge repairs resulting from it.

    But Faunt pointed to the Russell Avenue bridge that crosses the
    Outside Canal in the Central Valley. It sank during two previous
    droughts – one in the late 1970s and then again between 1987 and
    1992. Now with the current sinking, the 60-year-old bridge is
    almost totally submerged by canal water.

    Down the road about a mile, Russell Avenue crosses another
    irrigation canal, the Delta-Mendota Canal. That bridge is
    sinking, too, and now is partially submerged in water. Plans to
    replace it are estimated to cost $2.5 million, according to an
    estimate by the Central California Irrigation District.

    The bridge is part of an $80 million list of public and private
    repairs already needed near the El Nido subsidence bowl because
    of sinking, White said.

    Last year, the state passed its first law attempting to regulate
    groundwater, but farmers won’t be required to meet goals until
    2040 at the earliest. And the information on who is pumping what
    will be kept private.

    “A doomsayer would say we will run out of water,” said Matt
    Hurley, general manager of the Angiola Water District, near
    Bakersfield. “But I don’t believe we’re heading there. We’ve
    been given a good opportunity with the sustainability law.”

    But Devin Galloway, a scientist with the geological survey, sees
    devastation of a historic proportion returning to California. He
    says that even if farmers stopped pumping groundwater
    immediately, the damage already done to aquifers now drained to
    record-low levels will trigger sinking that will last for years,
    even decades.

    “This could be a very long process. Even if the water levels
    recover, things could continue to subside,” he said. “This is a
    consequence of the overuse of groundwater.”

    https://www.revealnews.org/article/california-is-sinking-and-its- getting-worse/

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