Articles | Volume 372
12 Nov 2015
 | 12 Nov 2015

Land subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley, California, USA, 2007–2014

M. Sneed and J. T. Brandt

Abstract. Rapid land subsidence was recently measured using multiple methods in two areas of the San Joaquin Valley (SJV): between Merced and Fresno (El Nido), and between Fresno and Bakersfield (Pixley). Recent land-use changes and diminished surface-water availability have led to increased groundwater pumping, groundwater-level declines, and land subsidence. Differential land subsidence has reduced the flow capacity of water-conveyance systems in these areas, exacerbating flood hazards and affecting the delivery of irrigation water.

Vertical land-surface changes during 2007–2014 were determined by using Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR), Continuous Global Positioning System (CGPS), and extensometer data. Results of the InSAR analysis indicate that about 7600 km2 subsided 50–540 mm during 2008–2010; CGPS and extensometer data indicate that these rates continued or accelerated through December 2014. The maximum InSAR-measured rate of 270 mm yr−1 occurred in the El Nido area, and is among the largest rates ever measured in the SJV. In the Pixley area, the maximum InSAR-measured rate during 2008–2010 was 90 mm yr−1. Groundwater was an important part of the water supply in both areas, and pumping increased when land use changed or when surface water was less available. This increased pumping caused groundwater-level declines to near or below historical lows during the drought periods 2007–2009 and 2012–present.

Long-term groundwater-level and land-subsidence monitoring in the SJV is critical for understanding the interconnection of land use, groundwater levels, and subsidence, and evaluating management strategies that help mitigate subsidence hazards to infrastructure while optimizing water supplies.