California is sinking –– quickly and with insufficient government reaction. Last year showed rates of subsidence, or caving of the earth’s surface, that haven’t been seen for nearly 50 years.
Subsidence occurs during the process of groundwater extraction when soil is aerated, and begins to deflate where the water used to be. The stat’s drought is exacerbating this problem, requiring them to overdraft on groundwater from aquifers at an unsustainable rate for the purpose of irrigation.
Subsidence, on its surface, may seem like an unavoidable byproduct of California’s drought combined with its dependence upon agriculture. However, groundwater extraction is not currently being monitored by any one particular agency. The agricultural sector is also not operating with full disclosure, posing significant complications to monitoring the issue. Finally, the funds currently being allocated to researching subsidence are insufficient — a neglect that could ultimately cost Californians millions of dollars.
While the damage potential is immeasurable, there are some things we already know. Sinking will continue to have detrimental effects on infrastructure, such as: irrigation canals, wells, highways, bridges, and public and private structures. Additionally, subsidence will make a multitude of buildings more susceptible to flooding. The fluctuating level of the land also has a dramatic impact on the elevation of streams and is causing tidal changes.
Last year, Californians passed the Sustainability Law, which was the first of its kind, and will attempt to regulate groundwater extraction. However, the law’s long-term focus means that farmers will not be held accountable for the legislation’ requirements for at least twenty-five years.
We donâ€™t have that long to wait. USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) scientists posit that the state’s subsidence problem will not rectify itself, and the sinking will continue even if farmers stop extracting groundwater immediately. Moreover, the depressed land elevation cannot be reversed.
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