Drought dries up groundwater, dries up California wells


FAIRMEAD, Calif. (AP) — As the drought in California worsens, Elaine Moore’s family is running out of an increasingly precious resource: water.

Almond growers in the Central Valley ran out of two wells this summer. Her two adult children are getting water from a new well that the family dug after the old one ran dry last year. It also supplies water to neighbors whose wells have dried up.

“Last year was very dry. Not much rain. Not much snow,” Moore said, standing next to a dry well on her property in Chowchilla, California. rice field. She “is very careful about the water that everyone uses. In fact, my granddaughter empties the small children’s pool to flush the toilet.”

During ~ Massive drought plaguing western USmore Rural areas are losing access to groundwater This is because massive pumping depletes underground aquifers that have not been replenished by rain and snow.

Over 1,200 wells have dried up statewide this yearThat’s nearly a 50% increase over the same period last year, according to the California Department of Water Resources. In contrast, fewer than 100 drywells were reported in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The groundwater crisis is most acute in the San Joaquin Valley, California’s agricultural center that exports fruits, vegetables and nuts worldwide.

The decline in groundwater supplies reflects the severity of California’s drought, now in its fourth year. According to the US Drought Monitor, More than 94% of the state is experiencing severe, extreme or unusual drought.

California just experienced its driest year on record, and state water officials said on Monday that another dry year is expected as the weather phenomenon known as La Niña is expected to occur for the third year in a row. I said I was ready for the year.

Farmers get little surface water from depleted state reservoirsso they are pumping more groundwater to irrigate their crops. 64% of wells have lower than normal water levels, according to state data.

Farmers are forced to fallow, orchards are dying, and water shortages are already reducing agricultural production in the region. According to the US Department of Agriculture, an estimated 531,00 acres (215,000 ha) of farmland went unplanted this year due to lack of irrigation water.

As climate change raises temperatures and exacerbates droughts, Cities and states around the world face water shortages as lakes and rivers dry upMany areas are pumping more groundwater and depleting aquifers at an alarming rate.

“This is an important challenge not only for California, but for Western communities as they adapt to climate change,” said Andrew Ayers, a water researcher at the California Institute of Public Policy.

Madera County, north of Fresno, has been particularly hard hit because it relies heavily on groundwater. The county has reported that about 430 wells have dried up so far this year.

In recent years, the county has seen rapid expansion of thirsty almond and pistachio orchards, which are usually irrigated by agricultural wells that are deeper than domestic wells.

“Big straws suck up water right under the little straws,” said Madeline Harris, policy manager for the Advocacy Group’s Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability. She stood next to a depleted municipal well in Fairmead, a town of 1,200 people surrounded by nut orchards.

“Municipal wells like these are endangered and drying up due to agricultural groundwater overdraft problems,” Harris said. “There are families who currently do not have access to running water because their domestic wells have dried up.”

Residents with dry wells can benefit from state programs that provide bottled water and storage tanks that are regularly filled by water trucks. The state also provides funds to replace dry wells, but it takes a long time to get new ones.

Not everyone receives aid.

Thomas Chairez said the Fairmead property he rents to his family of eight used to get water from a neighbor’s well. But when it dried up two years ago, his tenants lost access to running water.

Chairez is asking the county to provide storage tanks and water supply services. For now, his tenant is at his friend’s house where he has to fill a five-gallon (19-liter) bucket and drive water daily. They use water for cooking and showering. There is a portable toilet in the backyard.

“They survive,” said Chairez. “In Mexico, I used to do it. I was carrying two buckets myself from far away. So we have to survive somehow. This is an emergency.”

Water pump outages in the San Joaquin Valley have increased demand for well drilling equipment.

Ethan Bowles and his colleagues were recently drilling new wells on their ranch in the Madera Ranchos area, but many have dried up this year.

Bowles, who works for Chowchilla-based Drew and Hefner Well Drilling, said: “Most residents had wells for years, but suddenly the water stopped flowing.”

His company now has to drill 500 and 600 feet (152 to 183 meters) to provide stable groundwater supplies to its clients. It’s hundreds of feet deeper than the old well.

“We need to make the well deeper,” says Bowles. “We need to reach another aquifer and take another part of that water table so that we can actually supply our homes with fresh water.”

March, Governor Gavin Newsom Signs Executive Order To slow the frenzied well drilling of the past few years. A temporary measure prohibits local agencies from issuing permits for new wells that could harm nearby wells and structures.

Groundwater problems in California arise as local agencies try to comply with sustainable groundwater management laws. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2014 to prevent over-pumping of groundwater during the last drought. The law requires regional agencies to sustainably manage aquifers by 2042.

Water experts believe the legislation will lead to more sustainable groundwater supplies over the next 20 years, but it will be a bumpy road. The California Institute of Public Policy estimates that about 500,000 acres (202,000 hectares) of farmland, about 10% of all farmland today, will go out of production over the next 20 years.

“These communities will be impacted by drinking water supplies and unemployment,” said Isaya Kisekka, a groundwater expert at the University of California, Davis. will occur,” he said.

Farmers and residents of the valley want help from above. “I hope it rains a lot,” said Chairez. “We have a big need. We need water. We need water, water, water.”


Follow Terry Chea on Twitter: @terrychea


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