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.
It was bound to come to this as the drought in California lingers. Individuals and/or groups have started stealing water. From Accuweather:
With the state of California mired in its fourth year of drought and a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water usage in place, reports of water theft have become common.
In April, The Associated Press reported that huge amounts of water went missing from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and a state investigation was launched. The delta is a vital body of water, serving 23 million Californians as well as millions of farm acres, according to the Association for California Water Agencies.
The AP reported in February that a number of homeowners in Modesto, California, were fined $1,500 for allegedly taking water from a canal. In another instance, thieves in the town of North San Juan stole hundreds of gallons of water from a fire department tank.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 46 percent of California is under exceptional drought conditions, the most intense measurement of drought according to the monitor. The drought is forecast to worsen this summer.
In Madera County, District Attorney David Linn has instituted a water crime task force to combat the growing trend of water theft occurring throughout the state and to protect rightful property owners from having their valuable water stolen.
Jennifer Allen, spokesperson for the Contra Costa Water District in Concord, about 45 minutes from San Francisco, said it’s not uncommon for her agency to receive reports of water theft, but as the drought has continued, she said there has been an uptick in reports.
With the drought showing no signs of letting up, California continues to formulate new strategies to preserve as much water as possible. On May 5, the California State Water Resources Control Board adopted an emergency regulation that calls for a 25 percent reduction in overall potable urban water use in accordance with the governor’s order.
With most of the state suffering through an exceptional level of drought, dismal snowpack data and tugs-of-war among all the needy constituencies, there is some pragmatism floating around. From a recent story in Mother Jones:
The chart below, part of a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pacific Institute, sums up some of the options for saving water. California could reduce its water use by 17 to 22 percent with more efficient agricultural water use, including fixes like scheduling irrigation when plants need it and expanding drip and sprinkler irrigation. Urban water use could be reduced by 40 to 60 percent if residents replaced lawns with drought-tolerant plants, fixed water leaks, and replaced old toilets and showerheads with more water-efficient technology. And instead of channeling used water into the ocean, the state could treat it and reuse it—a practice that tends to gross some people out (because of the “drinking pee” factor) but has long been used in Orange County and is becoming more popular as the drought continues.
Two Stanford experts have been widely quoted on issues related to the ongoing California drought this Spring: Noah Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of Earth system science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and Leon Szeptycki, executive director of Stanford’s Water in the West program and a Woods professor of the practice specializing in water law.
Stanford News Service recently interviewed Diffenbaugh and Szeptycki about why California’s snowpack is in decline, and what it means for water management in the state. Some of their thoughts on the situation does not make happy reading.
This is the kind of extreme event that falls outside our historical experience. This is not only a low April 1 snowpack, but it is muchlower than the previous record low. California’s water infrastructure and management system relies on natural water storage from snowpack, which accumulates during the cool season and melts gradually into reservoirs and streams during the warm season. April 1 is typically the fulcrum between the snow accumulation season and the snowmelt season. Because we have such little snow right now, what is in the reservoirs is essentially what we will have between now and the next rainy season, which typically doesn’t start until the autumn. Even in a normal summer without pre-existing drought conditions, it would be stressful to have essentially no snow supply. But we are already in severe drought conditions with record high temperatures so far this year, meaning this drought is very likely to worsen during the summer.
In terms of impact on people and the environment, California’s federally operated reservoir system will likely not provide any water to agricultural users for the second year in a row – an unprecedented situation. Urban water providers are expected to get 25 percent of their allocated water. Similarly, the state-operated reservoir system is currently expecting to provide 20 percent of water deliveries to the majority of its users. Snowmelt runoff plays an important role for fish and other aquatic species because it is the primary source of summertime flow for many of our rivers and streams. The lack of snowpack will mean acutely low flows for these streams, and many of them will run dry. The impacts on aquatic life and ecosystems is potentially staggering.
The “Salva la goccia” (“Save the drop”) campaign in Italy was created with the goal of turning everyone from a spectator into an actor. Participants take concrete actions and spread a message about water’s relevance as a common good. To participate, contributors took an action that protects or conserves water (such as an eco-recipe), either photographed it or recorded a video demonstrating the action, and posted it on personal Facebook or Twitter profiles (using the hashtag #salvalagoccia). An online counter visible on the website www.immaginiperlaterra.it calculated how many sustainable behaviors were recorded, showing in real time the contributions everyone made to the protection of water resources.
Initiated by Green Cross for the 22 March World Water Day, Save the Drop attracted over 4,000 contributions. This year, the campaign asked contributors to cut back water usage in daily activities and cooking. People did so by choosing foods – such as fruits, vegetables and legumes – with low water footprints, and by creating the beautiful recipes whose photographs have already been posted on various social networks. The whole cast and crew of the movie “Mia figlia si sposa” (My Daughter is Getting Married), now being filmed in Salento, showed their support as well.
Access to safe water and sanitation is an ongoing problem in much of the world and, even though progress has been made, there is a long way to go to solve it. By 2025, two-thirds of the global population could live under conditions of water stress. According to World Health Organization data, more than one in ten of the world’s people, some 748 million human beings, do not have access to sources of drinking water. About 1.8 billion people use contaminated water.
Here’s how you can do your part to help manage the global water crisis.