Waterless World

A Global Water Crisis Forum


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That Sinking Feeling

We have discussed the massive groundwater depletion that has occurred in California here and here as the drought has lingered for the past four years.  It should not surprise anyone that one of the very visible impacts of the groundwater pumping is that some areas of the state are, quite literally, sinking.  Groundwater takes a long time to replenish, so even if the drought ended yesterday, the sinking would remain.  From the AP:

Vast areas of California’s Central Valley are sinking faster than in the past as massive amounts of groundwater are pumped during the historic drought, NASA said in new research released Wednesday.

The research shows that in some places the ground is sinking nearly two inches each month, putting infrastructure on the surface at growing risk of damage.

Sinking land has occurred for decades in California because of excessive groundwater pumping during drought conditions, but the new data shows it is happening faster.

Mark Cowin, head of the California Department of Water Resources, said the costly damage has occurred to major canals that deliver water up and down the state. In addition, wells are being depleted, he said.

“Because of increased pumping, groundwater levels are reaching record lows — up to 100 feet lower than previous records,” Cowin said in a statement.

The report said land near the city of Corcoran sank 13 inches in eight months and part of the California Aqueduct sank eight inches in four months last year.

Long-term subsidence has already destroyed thousands of public and private groundwater well casings in the San Joaquin Valley. Over time, subsidence can permanently reduce the underground aquifer’s water storage capacity.

As part of an ongoing effort to respond to the effects of the drought, a task force is working with communities to develop short-term and long-term recommendations to reduce the rate of sinking and address risks to infrastructure.

“Groundwater acts as a savings account to provide supplies during drought, but the NASA report shows the consequences of excessive withdrawals as we head into the fifth year of historic drought,” Cowin said in his statement. “

The Department of Water Resources is also launching a $10 million program to help counties with stressed groundwater basins to develop or strengthen local ordinances and conservation plans.

A record low mountain snowpack has increased pumping of groundwater by farmers and other water users. Scientists used satellite images of the Earth taken over time to measure the sinking land.


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Balls!

It’s not like we haven’t reported on innovative, strange and extreme ways that drought-plagued people, communities and enterprises find to manage their water resources.  This is not the first time we have heard about this method of limiting evaporation from reservoirs, but this time we have video.  From onEarth, the magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council:

As the drought rages on in California, things have been getting weird. Now the latest effort to protect L.A.’s water supply has just turned the city’s reservoir into a giant black-ball pit.

The 96 million plastic “shade balls” floating on the reservoir’s surface will help keep the water from evaporating, protect it from contamination by birds and other wildlife, and prevent sunlight from promoting algal growth. The balls are designed to last for about 10 years without degrading (at which point they’ll be recycled) or releasing anything harmful into the water themselves—Ed Osann, a senior policy analyst with NRDC (disclosuretells Bloomberg, “Everything that comes into contact with drinking water has to be a certified material,” meaning it shouldn’t cause pollution problems. 

ABC 7 reports that the move is millions of dollars cheaper than the alternative (which is installing a cover over the reservoir), and these spheres will save 300 million gallons of water every year. L.A. is on the ball, and other municipalities are catching on, too—watch officials from the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District release shade balls into their reservoir, too.


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Watching the Water Wasters

It’s not quite “Big Brother” but California continues to promote measures to ensure that water use is managed and that violators are discovered and subjected to a public flogging.  From CBS News:

California is launching a website that lets residents tattle on water wasters, from neighbors with leaky sprinklers to waiters who serve water without asking.

California has multiple restrictions on water use, including banning washing cars with hoses that don’t shut off and restricting lawn-watering within two days of rainfall. But enforcement varies widely across the parched state. 

Residents can send details and photos of water waste at www.savewater.ca.gov. Complaints are then sent to local government agencies based on the address of the offense.

Tipsters wary of being outed as the neighborhood snitch can remain anonymous.

The State Water Resources Control Board Water announced California cut its water use by 27 percent in June, passing the conservation target set by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Data shows 265 out of 411 local water agencies hit or nearly reached their reduction goals.

The site went online Thursday as the latest conservation initiative. More than 300 agencies have signed up to see the details of water waste tips. Many local agencies already had their own reporting sites.

“Our water use complaint calls have gone up exponentially from the last two years,” Terrance Davis of the Sacramento Department of Utilities told CBS affiliate KOVR in July. The city said from January to June, it received more than 8,000 complaints.

“Obviously we can’t see everything, can’t be everywhere so having people in the community helping us out–residents, neighbors–reporting those types of things is a great tool for us too,” Davis said.