Corcoran, California has sunk 11.5 feet in 14 years

The California town that is SINKING 2ft every year: Agriculture has drained the land around Corcoran and turned it into a slowmotion sinkhole

  • The farming town of Corcoran, California has been slow sinking for 14 years as agricultural companies continue to pump underground water to irrigate crops
  • While Corcoran has sunk only about four feet in certain areas since 2015, its predicted that city will sink another six to 11 feet over the next two decades 
  • But residents have already felt the immediate effects of the slow sinking, and at a cost for a town where the median income is $40,000
  • But despite the effect its having on the town, residents and leaders in the ‘ag-dominated’ town have chosen to downplay or flat out ignore the town’s sinkage

The farming town of Corcoran, California has been slowly sinking two feet every year over the last decade as agricultural companies pump underground water to irrigate crops.

Located in California’s San Joaquin Valley, the 7.47 square-mile town has a grand total of 21,960 residents and has sunk 11.5 feet in the last 14 years.  

The sinking is a result of agricultural companies that have pumped underground water to irrigate their crops for decades, according to the U.S.G.S. California Water Science Center.  

While Corcoran has sunk about four feet in certain areas since 2015, its predicted that city will sink another six to 11 feet over the next two decades, the New York Times reported. 

Casings of drinking-water wells have been crushed, flood zones have shifted and the town levee had to be rebuilt for $10 million, raising residents’ property tax bills roughly $200 a year for three years. 

Located in California’s San Joaquin Valley, the small town of Corcoran (pictured) has a grand total of 21,960 residents and has sunk 11.5 feet in the last 14 years

The farming town of Corcoran, California has been slow sinking for 14 years as agricultural companies continue to pump underground water to irrigate crops

For generations farmers have turned to pumping out ground water-water beneath the earth’s surface- when they cant get enough surface water from local rivers or from canals.  

But despite the negative effect its having on the area, residents and leaders in the ‘ag-dominated’ town have chosen to downplay or flat out ignore the town’s sinkage.

Few in Corcoran are eager to criticize agricultural companies that provide jobs in a struggling region for helping to cause a little-known geological problem no one can see, the New York Times reported. 

‘It’s a risk for us,’ said Mary Gonzales-Gomez, a lifelong Corcoran resident and chairwoman of the Kings County Board of Education told the NYT. ‘We all know that, but what are we going to do? There’s really nothing that we can do. And I don’t want to move.’ 

The sinking has even altered the town’s landscape, creating what is known as the ‘Corcoran Bowl’- which is an area amid the agricultural fields in and near Kings County that stretches at times up to 60 miles. 

The bowl is the region of deep sinkage in the land, with Corcoran at the center, the Times reported. 

Jay Famiglietti, is a former senior scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, helped discover the bowl and has warned of severe sinking in the area based on satellite imagery since 2009. 

Scientists at the NASA lab have spent years tracking subsidence there and elsewhere in the San Joaquin Valley by using radar and satellite technology, NYT reported.  

‘There’s no way around it,’ Famiglietti told the Times. ‘The scale of the bowl that’s been created from the pumping is large and that may be why people don’t perceive it. But a careful analysis would find there is lots of infrastructure potentially at risk.’

But infrastructure has already been damaged, leading to the Corcoran Irrigation District to install three lift stations to pump water through ditches. 

The water used to run on gravity alone, but the sinking created sags in the ditches and caused the water to pool instead of flow through so the district had to spent $1.2 million over 10 years on lift stations to help push the water along, costs paid for by farmers, the NYT reported. 

But despite the effect its having on the town, residents and leaders in the ‘ag-dominated’ town of Corcoran have chosen to downplay or flat out ignore the town’s sinkage

While Corcoran (pictured) has sunk about four feet in certain areas since 2015, its predicted that city will sink another six to 11 feet over the next two decades

In addition, there was the levee that was rebuilt for $10 million in 2017. 

The levee had sunk from 195 feet when it was built in 1983 to 188 feet in 2017, the NYT reported. 

‘Our residents got hit hard,’ Dustin Fuller, the director of the Cross Creek Flood Control District told the Times.  

In addition to the higher property tax bills, some residents were forced to purchase flood insurance for the first time. 

To make matters worse, several large agricultural operations surround Corcoran that have hundreds of wells pulling water from beneath the flat, fertile fields around the small town.  

The operations include Sandridge Partners, the J.G. Boswell Company, Hansen Ranches, the Vander Eyk Dairies and many others and it is nearly impossible to determine how much underground water is being pumped by farming companies since California does not require that information to be disclosed.

And as the droughts in California continue, so will the sinking.

Severe droughts force farmers  to pump more groundwater to make up for the lack of surface water. 

That happened during California’s last prolonged drought, from 2012 to 2016, when Central Valley land sank at high rates, the Times reported. 

Karla Nemeth, the director of the state’s Department of Water Resources, told the NYT that said excessive groundwater pumping and its effect on Corcoran were issues that warranted a closer look.

‘The plight of Corcoran is the absolute poster child for legacy unmanaged groundwater pumping that is unacceptable in California and that finally gave rise to’ Nemeth said. 

Corcoran is not the only area in the United States sinking. 

Texas’ Houston-Galveston area has been sinking since the 1800s, while parts of Arizona, Louisiana and New Jersey have dealt with subsidence problems as well. 

Thee foundations of Mexico City churches have famously tilted, and one 2012 study found that Venice was subsiding at a rate of .07 inches per year, the Times reported. 

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