Thursday, December 5, 2013

Sinking Two Feet?

In a story at Pacific Standard on the ineffectiveness of a Dutch groundwater tax, there was a link to this story:
Federal scientists added another piece of evidence last week in the argument for regulating California's underground water — the San Joaquin Valley's famous sinking landscape is still dropping.
The U.S. Geological Survey study showed a 1,200-square-mile section of the west side in Madera, Fresno and Merced counties has dropped almost 2 feet in just two years.
The land is always subsiding in the Valley, but not this fast. It happened quickly, mostly because of new permanent crops, such as almond orchards, in areas of Madera County that do not have access to river water, say many water experts.
The study has some water community insiders quietly buzzing to me about California passing its first law over groundwater supplies. States such as Colorado have had such regulation for years. There is no such law here.
Even among some farmers, there is talk of the regulation, though nobody has stepped up yet to openly suggest it. This political hot potato will burn most anyone, even in a state as environmentally minded as California.
The USGS study is important. Nearly 2 feet of subsidence in two years over a broad landscape is telling, especially with the clarity of new technology. But a swiftly sinking landscape is hardly new in the Valley.
Between 1926 and 1970, the ground sank nearly 29 feet on the Valley's west side. It slowed after farmers started buying Northern California river water to irrigate.
But farmers have long complained to me that drought and environmental regulation at the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta would force them to use more underground water. It defeats the purpose of the projects to deliver water from the north, they say.
1,200 square miles is nearly 3 counties in this part of the world.  That is crazy.  And 29 feet?  Holy shit.

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