Sinking CA land to cost billions

TULARE, CA - APRIL 24: Well water is pumped from the ground on April 24, 2015 in Tulare, California. As California enters its fourth year of severe drought, farmers in the Central Valley are struggling to keep crops watered as wells run dry and government water allocations have been reduced or terminated. Many have opted to leave acres of their fields fallow. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

TULARE, CA (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California’s struggling infrastructure faced the daunting prospect of too little water underground and too much falling from the sky.

“Four years of drought and heavy reliance on pumping of groundwater have made the land sink faster than ever up and down the Central Valley, requiring repairs to infrastructure that experts say are costing billions of dollars,” the Associated Press reported, citing punishing conditions affecting everything from canals to well casings to “stretches of a riverbed undergoing historic restoration.”

The problem has been ongoing for months. “The sinking is buckling the walls of irrigation canals, damaging pipes, creating giant sink holes and cracking homes,” CBS News noted in August. “California’s farmers are pumping groundwater as fast as they can in order to keep their crops alive during a drought that has left them high and very dry. But when this much water is pumped out of the aquifer below ground, the clay between the pockets of water collapses and the ground starts to deflate like a leaky air mattress.”

Despite an unusually heavy El Niño, years of historically meager snowy seasons led farmers and others to turn to groundwater in lieu of high-altitude runoff. “Years of low snow packs in the Sierra Nevada mountains have forced California to pump water from underground reserves to meet residential and agricultural demand,” The Hill noted, adding that drought conditions push groundwater consumption up from 40 percent of total statewide usage to roughly two thirds during a drought.

California’s continuing dry spell, however, has pushed the imbalance even further, inflicting harm on the state’s sprawling but already derelict waterways. “Overpumping during the current drought has led to damaged water infrastructure around the state,” according to The Hill. “Replacing a bridge in one California irrigation district could cost $2.5 million, and building a new canal elsewhere recently cost $4.5 million.”

Too much too soon

But the collapse, and its attendant costs, have taken on an added urgency as the state faces a powerful new rainy season. In fact, El Niño rains were expected to push those costs even higher, as mudslides and flooding hit weakened structures. “Heavy rains often bring mudflows. But experts warn that the deluges expected this winter with El Niño are likely to be exacerbated by the dry conditions in countless hillside and canyon communities,” the Los Angeles Times reported. “Even a little rain can set off a fast-moving debris flow, sweeping up anything in its way — loose boulders, tree limbs, cars, even homes.”

Officials faced tough tradeoffs between focusing on infrastructure repair and pivoting to emergency construction that would ameliorate the effects of El Niño. “From Ventura County to San Diego County, officials are racing to clean out debris basins, install protective barriers and develop evacuation plans for communities most at risk from an El Niño forecast to be one of the strongest ever recorded,” noted the Times.

Paying for less

Although experts have not calculated the final tab for the state’s subsidence, as the lowering of the ground level is called, estimates run as high as the billions over the long term. “Putting a grand total on damage from subsidence in California is tricky because irrigation districts don’t often single out repairs required by subsidence from general upkeep,” according to the AP. Department of Water Resources spokesman Ted Thomas told the wire service that the sinking of the California Aqueduct alone, which has reached over a foot, cost the state “tens of millions of dollars” over the past 40 years, with officials bracing for a similar expenditure going forward.

In the long run, however, new groundwater legislation has ensured that California farmland will simply be retired. “Groundwater pumping has kept hundreds of farms operating the past four years but continuous groundwater pumping won’t be allowed under the new California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which is set to take effect in 2020,” according to Ag Professional. “It will limit how much groundwater can be extracted over the long haul.”

21 comments

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  1. Bruce
    Bruce 1 January, 2016, 07:24

    Perhaps investing in added reservoirs, as suggested in the past, would have helped or even solved today’s plight. I wonder what that past roadblock was? Now we suffer because we do not have a right to coexist, according to some groups.

    Reply this comment
  2. Dude
    Dude 1 January, 2016, 10:42

    So…..tax us more if we have too little rain, and tax us more if we have too much rain. Typical Dimocrat solution. The solution to all liberal issues, real or imagined, requires wealth redistribution.

    Reply this comment
  3. freelove
    freelove 1 January, 2016, 12:38

    When free water from the sky is falling hard and overflowing local ‘waste’water and drainage systems…
    As much as mechanically possible MUST BE
    pumped into the groundwater table…
    Re-float the agricultural top soil layer of earth.
    “When the earth moves again my friend…”
    -Grace Slick

    Reply this comment
  4. Pam
    Pam 1 January, 2016, 21:20

    California’s agri-business is the mainstay of the State economy. We grow crops to feed the rest of the nation. To say the solution going forward is to permanently “retire” the farmland will negatively impact our economy and GSP. If our Legislatures and Governors had invested in constructing dams and other water conservation measures for the last 40 years rather than investing in their own personal enrichment and that of the lobby who always wants something in return, perhaps we would not have this problem. All of our water from Northern California goes South to LA and San Diego and everything in between. Some of it even flows in to Mexico. Perhaps if the farmers had their fair share to grow their crops, they would not resort to pumping underground water during the dry years. Investing in desalination plants years ago would also have helped our current situation. Perhaps having a closed border would prevent hundreds of thousands migrants from also moving here, which, in the case of LA and SD puts a huge demand on our water resources. I’m a third generation Californian who is a senior citizen, and I just can’t believe the willful destruction of my home state.

    Reply this comment
  5. DavidBarron
    DavidBarron 1 January, 2016, 21:44

    Do the radical environmentalists that demand water be diverted for fish have anything to say on the billions now needed to make repairs?

    Is governor Brown going to admit his failure on improving capacity of storage in existing dams?

    Reply this comment
  6. Christian
    Christian 1 January, 2016, 22:46

    90% of the water we get from the Sierra Navada Mountain range is literally sent out to sea. If the Feinstein would stop taking away that water we would not be forced to rely on our underground water.

    Reply this comment
  7. me
    me 2 January, 2016, 00:32

    it’s time Californians face the fact they have put into office people who care more about an environazi agenda than they do reality, or the state and her citizens. It’s also long overdue to hold these politicians accountable for their criminal negligence. They need to be stopped from inflicting further damage, for as much as we’re receiving new water in the form of rain and snow pack, they will STILL be determined to limit what humans can use for themselves and their landscaping and give 50%+ to a few fish in the delta. However, we know it’s not about fish, but the agenda, Agenda 21 and others, and these feinds are unhindered in their fulfillment of this. It has to stop. They are destroying the state and our property by this criminal mismanagement. They only way it will stop is if we put a stop to it.

    Reply this comment
    • Dude
      Dude 2 January, 2016, 00:49

      You are right on all counts Me, especially Agenda 21. In the U.S. it hides behind the name, “Smart Growth”. We have George Bush Sr. to thank for that.

      Reply this comment
  8. Bill G.
    Bill G. 2 January, 2016, 07:40

    Unfortunately for anyone age 25 and younger, optimism and energy can’t really help a vast landscape that has been smashed by the twin forces of quick-buck American greed and utopian soft-boiled marxo-environmentalism.

    Believe it or not, the land in the central valley is not a rubber water-storage device that can be deflated and inflated at will. Perhaps in a distant future geologic era, say 50 million years from now, those sucked-dry clay layers will rearrange themselves into new water-bearing formations.

    And then consider the thousands of square miles of ticky-tack particle board and beige stucco subdivisions, home to millions of lost souls, plopped down in canyons and on ridges that had never been inhabited before by human beings. They are either going to burn or slide, depending on the season, and their inhabitants, after returning from a fresh round of shopping at COSTCO, will vow to rebuild….

    Reply this comment
  9. Ted. Mentor to the doomed....
    Ted. Mentor to the doomed.... 2 January, 2016, 21:37

    Republicans hate science!
    repeat after me
    there is no such thing as global warming…..lol

    Reply this comment
    • Rex the Wonder Dog!
      Rex the Wonder Dog! 3 January, 2016, 11:33

      Repeat after me…Teddy Steals is Koo-Koo for CoCo Puffs…LOL.

      Reply this comment
    • Rex the Wonder Dog!
      Rex the Wonder Dog! 3 January, 2016, 12:42

      Winding up our resident trough feeder is like taking candy from a baby!

      Same as Teddy Steal’s feeding time…When a fat hog expects his slop every morning at 6 am, you can rest assured he is awake and waiting at 5:45 am. What else would you expect from Teddy 🙂

      Reply this comment
      • ted
        ted 4 January, 2016, 09:12

        LOL I live in the Cuddle Poodle’s head! It’s empty up here!

        Been camping here so long I owe rent!!!

        Reply this comment
  10. Back in CA
    Back in CA 3 January, 2016, 09:00

    Why not Stop Criminals from crossing , living, DRINKING WATER and entering GOV. in CA How much water would then be available . How many businesses have FLED the state. Too bad the politicians paid there own pension FIASCOS while the state is in a quagmire of GOV. SWARMING.
    Stop GOV. SWARMING..

    Reply this comment
  11. Irv
    Irv 3 January, 2016, 13:17

    ~~RESIDENTS OF CALIFORNIA WAKE UP~~The USGS report these articles are based on is highly flawed. A very large, and getting large, water user was left out. That user is California’s Clown><Jerry Browns precious solar industry and all the Utility-Scale facilities being built in the Central Valley and more to come. The proof is the escalating sinking from 2008[?] to present. I realize the Valley has been sinking but not as fast as it is now. The correlation between the building of solar PV facilities and CSP solar facilities, water use and the sinking is 100% clear! I researched the phenomenon, wrote about it and printed my results in a book that has not been published as of yet. All the data is there and is solid!

    Reply this comment
  12. Spurwing Plover
    Spurwing Plover 4 January, 2016, 13:34

    Sorry but shutting of water to farmers and ranchers to same some dumb fish(Delta Smelt,Coho Salmon,two sucker fish)is’nt right its unconstitutopnal

    Reply this comment
  13. ted
    ted 5 January, 2016, 09:24

    Repeat after me doomers—“there’s no such thing as climate change….there’s no such thing as climate change…..”

    Reply this comment

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