California’s Latest Nightmare: San Joaquin Valley is Sinking
Policy + Politics

California’s Latest Nightmare: San Joaquin Valley is Sinking


It’s bad enough that California is being battered by one of its worst droughts on record and that thousands of wildfires are consuming over 100,000 acres of woods amid fears that global warming may be making matters even worse.

Now comes a report that huge chunks of the state are literally sinking into the ground – posing serious threats to homes, businesses and roads in the affected areas.

Related: California Steaming: High Cost of the State's Drought Fixes

As the result of a bizarre and tragic confluence of drought, earthquakes, ground water mismanagement and overpopulation, a vast segment of the San Joaquin Valley in northern California is literally sinking into the ground.

The geological crisis – a fit subject for a wild science fiction thriller and one more crisis for Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown to contend with -- was confirmed by aerial imagery by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA). Areas of the state are literally turning into giant sinkholes.

The state appears to be descending into Dante’s third ring of hell as it braves the fourth year of what some experts are calling the worst drought in its history. A new study by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory issued Thursday warns that global warming caused by industrial greenhouse gases may have intensified California’s drought by 15 to 20 percent, The New York Times reported.

Because of a diminished snowpack, scant rain and brutal high temperatures, ground water for agriculture irrigation is evaporating or being pumped dry, and surface areas in parts of northern California are beginning to give way.

Related: Crews Begin to Gain Ground Against Northern California Wildfire

Indeed, although the phenomenon of sinking land – or “subsidence” as it is called by scientists -- is nothing new to California, NASA analysts determined that parts of the populous state are collapsing at a rate of as much as two inches per month – faster than in the past.

Mark Cowin, the director of the California Department of Water Resources, said in a press release earlier this week that as intensive pumping of groundwater persists, the land is sinking more rapidly “and puts nearby infrastructure at greater risk of costly damage.”

According to one study by the University of California, Davis, the drought may cost the California economy roughly $2.7 billion this year – with most damage to agriculture.

The San Joaquin Valley is located south of Sacramento, with a sprawling land mass of 22,500 square miles and a total population of about 3.9 million people.

Related: Drought Costing California Farms $1.8 Billion in Revenue

While there is little chance that buildings and homes in Sacramento and other populous areas will be swallowed up, one notable area of concern is centered near Corcoran – population 24,000 and best known as the location of the California State Prison where Charles Manson is imprisoned.