California’s Central Valley has long been disproportionately affected by the state’s severe drought.
Now, the valley is literally sinking at an unprecedented rate, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
“Roads, railways, canals, pipelines. Any kind of infrastructure that isn’t flexible will break, and that is why people essentially care about subsidence for the most part, because it is expensive,” USGS’s Michelle Sneed told local CBS affiliate KPIX 5.
Subsidence is the result of exhaustive pumping of deep, underground groundwater wells. When the water is extracted, the land atop the wells compresses downward, reducing the future water capacity of the wells. Low or nonexistent rainfall means the wells are not being replenished naturally, and there is no way to reverse the effects of subsidence.
The farmers who dig the wells are getting increasingly desperate.
“Customers will actually pay people from out of state double or triple the price of a regular well just to get the well,” Steve Arthur of Arthur & Orum Well Drilling told CBS. “Believe me, the farmers are not drilling wells just because they have nothing else to do with their money.”
In an attempt to stay afloat amidst the state’s water shortages, farmers are digging wells deeper than ever before. While the standard is about 800 feet down, farmers are now digging wells 1,500 feet deep, and in some cases, 3,000 feet deep, or about the length of two Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other.
“It’s unbelievable,” Arthur told CBS. “We can’t keep up with the demand.”
Still, USGS images (seen in the above video) underscore the severity of the Central Valley’s subsidence problem. Sneed told CBS that where the rate of subsidence was at one time 30 feet in 50 years, “at the rate we’re going now northeast of here, we’re looking at 50 feet in 50 years.”
In September, California passed new groundwater regulations that require farmers to track and report the amount of groundwater they pump from beneath their land.
Still, farmers cannot afford to reduce the number of wells they dig.
“That is their life,” Arthur told CBS. “If they can’t raise their crops, they are out of business.”