Pumped beyond limits, many U.S. aquifers in decline

Nationwide analysis shows depletion of groundwater widespread and worsening

SUBLETTE, Kansas – Just before 3 a.m., Jay Garetson’s phone buzzed on the bedside table. He picked it up and read the text: “Low Pressure Alert.”

He felt a jolt of stress and his chest tightened. He dreaded what that automated message probably meant: With the water table dropping, another well on his family’s farm was starting to suck air.

The Garetson family has been farming in the plains of southwestern Kansas for four generations, since 1902. Now they face a hard reality. The groundwater they depend on is disappearing. Their fields could wither. Their farm might not survive for the next generation.

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9 States Running Out of Water

For many states, the rainy season is over, and most of the Western United States is now locked into a fourth consecutive year of drought. The imminent dry summer is particularly foreboding for California, where more than 44% of land area is engulfed in an exceptional level of drought. This was the highest such share nationwide and the kind of water shortage seen only once a century.

According to a study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), “Droughts in the U.S. Southwest and Central Plains during the last half of this century could be drier and longer than drought conditions seen in those regions in the last 1,000 years.” The likelihood of such a drought is 12%, NASA scientists estimated. Continue reading

Delta’s water vanishing amid drought

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In this photo taken Friday March 27, 2015, low-flow water emitter sits on some of the dry, cracked ground of farmer Rudy Mussi’s almond orchard in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta near Stockton, Calif.

 

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — As California struggles with a devastating drought, huge amounts of water are mysteriously vanishing from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta — and the prime suspects are farmers whose families have tilled fertile soil there for generations.

A state investigation was launched following complaints from two large agencies that supply water to arid farmland in the Central Valley and to millions of residents as far south as San Diego.

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At issue is California’s century-old water rights system that has been based on self-reporting and little oversight, historically giving senior water rights holders the ability to use as much water as they need, even in drought. Gov. Jerry Brown has said that if drought continues this system built into California’s legal framework will probably need to be examined. Continue reading