|Chase Hurley general manager of the San Luis Canal Company stands on Sack Dam, which |
is slowing sinking into the San Joaquin River east of Los Banos.
The Coming California Dust Bowl
- As a major industry California agriculture may vanish in the future because of a near total lack of water management by the incompetent Ruling Elites in Sacramento.
- Instead of long-term water planning Democrats want to spend $100 Billion on a bullet train to nowhere and both parties want to suck the Sacramento Delta into a dry dust bowl in order to satisfy big money agri-business.
(Editor - As a Conservative John Muir Conservationist it staggers me the lack of any real interest by either party in protecting the environment of our Golden State. A strong, protected environment means more businesses, jobs and wealth.)
LOS BANOS, CA -- Flat as a tabletop, the furrowed, brown farm fields east of this San Joaquin Valley town are some of the most productive on Earth.
Every spring, they are planted with a smorgasbord of crops that in one form or another are trucked to grocery stores across America, from fresh juicy tomatoes to freeze-dried onion flakes, honeydew melons to tortilla chips.
Now that bounty is threatened by a crisis of geological proportions: The land is sinking – crippling the region’s irrigation and flood control infrastructure and damaging aquifers that are buffers against climate change.
Nature, though, is not to blame. This problem is self-inflicted, driven by the frontier-style exploitation of the last unregulated resource in California: groundwater.
“We are looking at a material impact of a magnitude that is potentially catastrophic,” said Cannon Michael, a sixth-generation farmer who grows tomatoes, onions and other crops near Los Banos.
“I’m pro-California agriculture in every way,” Michael added. “But there are times when you realize that maybe there are some modes of operation that aren’t working. Your ground falling away at your feet is telling you something is not going correctly.”
|A water pump supported by a concrete pad that once sat directly |
on the ground is now elevated about four inches due to land
subsidence caused by heavy groundwater pumping.
Today’s drama is only the latest chapter in a long-running saga of sinking. Three generations ago, so much groundwater was pumped from aquifers that half the valley sank like a giant pie crust, sagging 28 feet near Mendota and inflicting damage to irrigation canals, pipelines, bridges, roads and other infrastructure.
What stopped it were two massive government-funded irrigation efforts – the federal Central Valley Project and California State Water Project – that flooded the region with water from distant California mountains, relieving pressure on the area’s natural underground water supply. But the fix was temporary. Today, drought, climate change and other forces have unleashed a new era of groundwater pumping, triggering some of the worst land subsidence ever seen in California. Near Michael’s farm, the valley is predicted to drop 17 feet by 2060.
“Subsidence is really Mother Nature telling us we can’t continue to do what we are doing,” said Peter Gleick, a water policy expert and president of the Pacific Institute, an Oakland-based think tank. “It is a physical manifestation of the irrationality of our groundwater system.”
While dramatic, valley subsidence is only part of a larger catalog of trouble tied to unrestrained groundwater pumping across California, from water shortages near Paso Robles to dried-up springs and meadows in the Owens Valley.
“You have too many straws in the glass, using too much water – mining the water,” said Jeffrey Mount, senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank in San Francisco. “This cannot be sustained indefinitely.”
About 30 percent of California’s water supply comes from underground supplies, more during droughts. Eighty percent of state residents rely to some degree on groundwater. Some towns, cities and farming operations depend entirely on it.
But unlike other Western states, California has no state standards for groundwater management. Instead, responsibility rests with a patchwork of local and regional entities where oversight varies from careful monitoring and allocation in some places to little or no control elsewhere. Amid one of the worst droughts in California history, state officials now are scrambling to establish a more comprehensive e approach.e approach.....................................................................................
“The cumulative overdraft – our deficit spending of groundwater – is over 122 million acre-feet. That’s Lake Tahoe,” said Lester Snow, executive director of the California Water Foundation, a Sacramento nonprofit that supports groundwater reform. “That’s water we have taken out of our groundwater resources in the Central Valley – and not replaced.
"Groundwater can be renewable if you manage it sustainably, but we are mining it,” said Snow, a former director of the California Department of Water Resources. “We are using water that may have been deposited thousands of years ago.”
Most of the overdraft occurs in the Central Valley’s more arid southern half, the 220-mile long San Joaquin Valley, according to a 2011 study published in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters that monitored groundwater overdraft by satellite from 2003 to 2010.
“It’s a terrible situation,” said Jay Famiglietti, a professor of earth system science at UC Irvine and author of the study. And the future, he added, does not look better. “The snowpack is disappearing. Population is growing. There are competing demands for a decreasing supply of water,” Famiglietti said. “The agricultural community will have no choice but to mine the groundwater. And just like any other natural resource, it is not infinite.”
“Without doing anything, it’s over,” he added. “In my opinion, we will see the demise of agriculture in California without groundwater management.”
See more at the Sacramento Bee