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“Irrigation Subsidence” – Is This the Makings of a Hollywood Thriller?

Touch the Soil News #106  –  includes 1 info graphic and 2 videos

With California providing over 50 percent of the nation’s primary fruit and vegetables, water will be directed towards fruit and veggie production at the expense of other crops. Some of the crops getting the ax include alfalfa (hay), rice, cotton, wheat and barley.

American consumers will see short-term benefits from this water allocation in that increases in the price of our fresh fruits and vegetables is forecast to be modest this year. However, in California proper, there will be around 560,000 acres fallowed (not farmed) and a loss of around 19,000 jobs. See (info graphic #1) below which illustrates the acres America plants in some of the major vegetable crops each year that all together total roughly 560,000 acres:

Because of the drought, California farmers are expected to lose one third of their surface water supply, forcing farmers (and cities) into dramatic increases in groundwater pumping.  In some areas of the San Joaquin Valley, farmers are pumping water that hasn’t been touched in a million years. Mining this finite resource, however, is causing the land to drop 8 to 12 inches a year.

The technical term for dropping land levels due to over-pumping is called “subsidence.” Perhaps the next Hollywood thriller will be called “Subsidence.” Or, for a positive alternative, Mother Nature will bring rain and move Hollywood’s focus somewhere else.

The attached photo here is of Joe Poulen near Mendota, California taken in 1977. Joe marked the power pole with where the water level was in 1925 and 1955.

Subsidence has been going on for years, but it has escalated in recent years due to the extreme drought. Once the water is pumped, the land collapses and the aquifer cannot be recharged. It is like draining a single-use battery. The damaging consequences to roads, land and buildings are on the increase. Once the land has collapsed, it cannot deal with current floodwaters that more easily flood beyond levees and canal borders. Uploaded below are two short videos on the rising concern of subsidence in California.

In response to the drought and escalating subsidence, the State of California recently passed new groundwater legislation requiring sweeping steps to measure how much water each well is pumping and establishing fines for over-pumping. California Farmers are not happy with what they call draconian measures to police water withdrawals, enforce withdrawal violations and establish punitive fines. ▪

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