An Associated Press story this week highlighted a growing problem in the state — sinking land caused by the underground pumping of water.
While there have been no reports of land sinking in Tulare County, on the San Joaquin Valley’s westside where growers have been forced to pump water to grow crops, land has been sinking in some areas at an alarming rate. According to the story, the sinking land is causing millions of dollars in damage and threatens the California Aquaduct which carries water from northern California to Southern California. The story said in some places the ground is sinking more than a foot a year.
The main culprit is a lack of surface water for farmers. Farmers throughout the Valley have had to pump millions of gallons of water from the underground to make up for the loss of surface water. That pumping is leaving huge gaps in the underground, which in places is collapsing and causing the land to sink on the surface.
The problem of subsidence is not new. Subsidence was cited as one of the reasons for the construction of the Friant-Kern Canal because back in the 1940s pumping by farmers on the Valley’s east side was causing the ground to sink. Subsidence occurred on the west side of the Valley as well and was one of the reasons for the San Luis Reservoir and the California Aquaduct. That reservoir, which is fed by water from Northern California, is used to irrigate millions of acres of some of the richest farmland in the world.
That project, promoted by U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy as a great step forward for California, opened up millions of acres of farmland, just as the Friant-Kern Canal did on the east side. Today, the water that used to flow down those canals is being sent out to the ocean. For 60 years farmers got water from the Friant-Kern Canal to irrigate their crops, but those farmers have received none the past two years. The San Luis Reservoir has held a fraction of what it can hold because, again, water officials have let water flow out to the ocean rather than down to the reservoir.
Somewhere around 2007 water managers began to allow more water to flow out to the ocean than to the Central Valley. It is those decision-makers who are to blame for much of the land subsidence occurring in the Valley today. It is those decision makers who need to rethink what they are doing to this state.
We have two choices today. Either stop all farming in the Central Valley and let it dry up, or stop sending half of California’s water out to the ocean. For rational people, the choice should not be that difficult.