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Central Valley’s Aquifer Faces ‘Full-on Crisis’ Due to Pumping, Drought

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Groundwater losses in the Central Valley since 2003 have totaled about 36 million acre-feet, or about 1.3 times the capacity of Lake Mead. (Shutterstock)
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Heavy groundwater pumping by growers ahead of limits set by California’s landmark SGMA law and the drought have created “a full-on crisis” in the Central Valley, researchers say.

“The trajectory we’re on right now is one for 100% disappearance (of the aquifer),” hydrology professor Jay Famiglietti told The Los Angeles Times. “This is the water for the future generations. And it’s disappearing.”

Heavy agricultural pumping has drawn down aquifer levels to new lows and threatens to devastate the underground water reserves, stated the study done by Famiglietti and other researchers. The journal Nature Communications published the study on Dec. 19.

The study found that since 2019, the rate of groundwater depletion has been 31% greater than during California’s previous two droughts.

Valley Groundwater Loss Is 36 Million Acre-Feet Since 2003

They also found that groundwater losses in the Central Valley since 2003 have totaled about 36 million acre-feet, or about 1.3 times the full water-storing capacity of Lake Mead near Las Vegas, the country’s largest reservoir.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which was passed in 2014,  won’t take full effect until 2040. Famiglietti said that the state may have to speed up its implementation in light of what’s happening with the aquifer.

“We are seeing what appears to be a rush to pump as much groundwater as possible before new restrictions take hold,” he said. “My fear is that by the time SGMA is fully implemented, it will be too late. There will be nothing left to manage.”

Read more at this link.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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