Subsidence is giving Gov. Brown that sinking feeling

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subsidence2Gov. Jerry Brown says California plans to get tougher with farmers who have been pumping record amounts of groundwater during the drought.

Appearing yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Brown responded to a new NASA report that shows vast areas of the Central Valley sinking rapidly in a process known as subsidence because huge amounts of groundwater are being siphoned from underground aquifers.

Brown recently signed a package of laws designed to slow the depletion of groundwater by giving local water agencies the power to impose fines and shut down wells. Those agencies have to develop plans that allow that landowners to pump only as much water as is naturally replenished. The new rules won’t take effect until 2020 at the earliest, however.

“California now has groundwater management for the first time in its entire recorded history,” Brown said. “So we are much more aggressive, but we are not aggressive enough and we will be stepping it up year by year.”

In typical years, groundwater supplies from 30 to 40 percent of the state’s agricultural water supply. But during the drought, it’s been closer to 60 percent. Because it’s been so dry, the aquifers have not been refilled – causing the ground to sink.

NASA researchers say the land on some Central Valley farms has been sinking by about two inches a month – and that’s causing damage to roads, bridges and canals. The depletion of groundwater fed creeks is also threatening a number of animal species.