Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District

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Nine sobering facts about California’s groundwater problem

Joseph Poland of the U.S. Geological Survey used a utility pole to document where a farmer would have been standing in 1925, 1955 and where Poland was then standing in 1977 after land in the San Joaquin Valley had sunk nearly 30 feet.

With an alarmingly dry winter and California reservoirs dropping fast, groundwater increasingly is keeping the state hydrated. It now accounts for about 60 percent of California’s water supply. But unlike its rivers, lakes and reservoirs, the state does not consider groundwater part of the public good. It does not regulate groundwater like it does surface water. Landowners can pump as much water as they want.

So for nearly a century, Californians have drained an incredible amount of water from the ground to grow crops and water landscaping. It is not sustainable. The water has not returned. The result is a sinking state. Here are some startling facts about California’s groundwater depletion:

1. Californians drained about 125 million acre-feet of groundwater (about 41 trillion gallons) from the Central Valley between 1920 and 2013, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That’s the equivalent of draining about a third of Lake Erie or, put another way, enough fresh water to provide every person on Earth with a 30-year supply of drinking water. Unfortunately, this reliance on groundwater seems to be worsening. The rate of aquifer depletion experienced during the past decade is more than double the historic average

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Source:  Nathan Halverson, Reveal, June 25, 2015

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