California's three-year drought has sparked a surge in demand for wells in the state's agricultural heartland. With federal and state allocations of surface water reduced to a trickle, growers are searching deeper underground for sources of water to keep their farms from ruin.That won't end well. Unsustainable is unsustainable, no matter how you look at it.
The clamor has overwhelmed California drillers and pump installers, forcing some farms to hire contractors from neighboring states.
It's also setting the stage for more problems later as groundwater supplies are shrinking faster than they can be replenished. In parts of the Central Valley, the water table has plummeted, drying up old wells and sinking the land above, a phenomenon called subsidence.
That's resulted in even deeper wells that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and require more energy to pump water to the surface. As recently as two decades ago, a well several hundred feet would suffice. Today, large farms are drilling to depths of 2,000 feet in anticipation of falling water levels.
"We're going bigger horsepower every year," said Charles Barber, president of Caruthers Pump south of Fresno, who has customers on a three-month waiting list. "We've lost 30 feet of groundwater in a year in some places. We keep that up for 10 years and we won't be farming like this anymore."
At the end of June, the state's top agricultural producing county, Tulare, had issued 874 well permits, 44 more than all of last year. Fresno County, the second-biggest farm producer in California, issued 601 well permits over the same period, about 100 short of matching its total for 2013...
By the end of 2014 alone, groundwater is expected to replace three-quarters of the 6.6 million acre-feet of surface water lost to drought this year — raising groundwater's share of the state's agricultural water supply from 31% to 53%, the UC Davis report said.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Central Valley Water Mining Is a Race to the Bottom of the Aquifer