(Photo: Dick Ireland / USGS)
California may be in the forefront in some environmental issues like alternative energy and recycling, but it is actually quite backwards when it comes to groundwater. Despite the long and severe drought, the state is bending to political pressure to allow farmers to withdraw groundwater to water their crops.
Felicity Barringer of The New York Times has the story:
Since 2006 the surface of the aquifer, in the Kaweah subbasin of the San Joaquin basin, has dropped 50 feet as farmers pumped deeper, Mr. Watte says. Some of his pumps no longer reach far enough to bring
any water to the surface.
If he lived in almost any other state in the arid Southwest, Mr. Watte could be required to report his withdrawals of groundwater or even reduce them. But to California’s farmers and developers, that is anathema. “I don’t want the government to come in and dictate to us, ‘This is all the water you can use on your own land,’ ” said Mr. Watte, 57. “We would resist that to our dying day.” [...]
Older Californians are quick to recall more severe droughts. Heavy groundwater pumping in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s caused large overdrafts, meaning the groundwater pumped out exceeded the natural recharge of water percolating down from the surface. Some water tables dropped 400 feet; in some areas the ground itself sank as much as 50 feet.
The interesting photo above comes via the United States Geological Survey. It depicts USGS scientist Joe Poland showing subsidence (or sinking) of the land in the San Joaquin Valley from 1925 to 1977. The sign shows where the land level was at that year.