The San Joaquin Valley is sinking faster as farmers pump groundwater to save their crops in California’s intense drought, state leaders said Wednesday.
The state pledged $10 million for counties with stressed water basins to help pass ordinances and create conservation programs to protect groundwater. The state’s groundwater management laws passed in 2014 will take years to make a difference, officials noted.
“Because of increased pumping, groundwater levels are reaching record lows – up to 100 feet lower than previous records,” said Mark Cowin, state Department of Water Resources director. “This puts nearby infrastructure at greater risk of costly damage.”
The landscape sinking the fastest continues to be in farming areas around El Nido in Merced County and Corcoran in Kings County.
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Cowin joined NASA scientists Wednesday to reveal the newest findings recorded from satellites and aircraft using radar to detect changes. The landscape sinking the fastest continues to be in farming areas around El Nido in Merced County and Corcoran in Kings County.
In the Corcoran area, there was a 3-foot drop between 2007 and 2010. Between May 2014 and January, the area dropped another foot, the NASA report shows. The El Nido area sunk about 10 inches in 2014, the report showed.
Such landscape sinking is difficult to see with the naked eye because it is spread over a large area. The Valley sinks naturally, but at a much slower rate, scientists say.
Even worse, as water is pumped out of the ground in many Valley areas, the soil collapses and cannot be refilled with water during wet seasons, scientists said.
NASA scientists also studied the sinking land around the California Aqueduct, the massive north-south canal that carries water to Southern California. The aqueduct has sunk 13 inches, they said.
Though the state does not have an estimate on possible damage, the nonprofit California Water Foundation, based in Sacramento, last year reported $1.3 billion in damages along the Valley’s west side over many decades.
Cowin said groundwater management plans involved in the state’s new law would take time to develop. That’s a fact of life, he said.
“In the near-term, we would encourage county measures to limit new pumping,” he said.