California is sinking. We can’t mince words on this one. Drought conditions in the state have had a profound and devastating effect on crops, spurring farmers to draw out ever-elusive groundwater, causing aquifers to collapse. We’ve reported previously on this problem, but new information illustrates how dire the prognosis really is for the Golden State, as scientists recorded the worst sinking in 50 years last year.
Estimates from 2012 showed that, at that time, land in the San Joaquin Valley was sinking at a rate of one foot per year, and that rate has not slowed. Despite very recent promises to cut water usage, California’s farmers are mostly to blame for depleting the aquifers, although those underground stores of water are also used for public works. Drilling into aquifers to utilize groundwater for food production isn’t a new thing. For a long time, though, it wasn’t all that necessary. Until 2014, groundwater access wasn’t even regulated in California, which only became a problem when drought conditions worsened to the point that farmers became desperate for the water trapped deep within the aquifers.
Talking to The New York Times, Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (which has been monitoring groundwater with satellites), noted that in a normal year, about 33 percent of California’s water comes from underground. The 2015 estimates put that figure closer to 75 percent. Famiglietti says that California’s water losses—some eight trillions overall since 2011—have been mostly from underground aquifers, which make up two-thirds of the lost water.
As the land sinks, especially at such alarming rates, infrastructure becomes threatened. Roadways and bridges will become increasingly unstable, and building foundations will buckle. In a region already braced for the threat of earthquakes, a sinking landscape makes it even more precarious a place to call home.
Images via USDA/Flickr