Drought-related costs will climb after heavy groundwater pumping

Posted by Mark Grossi on June 2, 2014 

Utility poles tilt to the north along Kamm Avenue, near Three Rocks, evidence of land subsidence, according to scientists with the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service.

JOHN WALKER — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

A study last month estimated farm-related drought losses at $1.7 billion this year in California -- a dark prediction, but researchers added a little extra downer.

 "There will be substantial long-term costs of groundwater overdraft that are not reflected in this study," says the study from the University of California at Davis.

In other words, this could get much worse down the line. Think about wells drying up, water quality suffering, pumping costs climbing and the landscape sinking. The U.S. Geological Survey describes the impacts of overdrafting the underground.

How much would it cost if the California Aqueduct had to be repaired because of the sinking landscape? How about small dams along rivers? I'm sure readers can think of many other problems.

The study says 410,000 acres will be taken out of production, but a lot more land would be fallowed without groundwater. About 5 million acre-feet of water will be pumped at a cost of $488 million.

Where will the overdraft hit hardest this summer? It will be in the Tulare Lake Basin -- roughly, Fresno to Bakersfield, according to the study.

UC Davis will update its economic study as the season moves forward. 

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