Land subsidence associated with ground-water-level declines has been investigated by the U.S. Geological Survey in the Coachella Valley, California, since 1996. Groundwater has been a major source of agricultural, municipal, and domestic supply in the valley since the early 1920s. Pumping of ground water resulted in water-level declines as large as 15 meters (50 feet) through the late 1940s. In 1949, the importation of Colorado River water to the southern Coachella Valley began, resulting in a reduction in ground-water pumping and a recovery of water levels during the 1950s through the 1970s. Since the late 1970s, demand for water in the valley has exceeded deliveries of imported surface water, resulting in increased pumping and associated ground-water-level declines and, consequently, an increase in the potential for land subsidence caused by aquifer-system compaction.
Global Positioning System (GPS) surveying and interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) methods were used to determine the location, extent, and magnitude of the vertical land-surface changes in the southern Coachella Valley. GPS measurements made at 13 geodetic monuments in 1996 and in 2005 in the southern Coachella Valley indicate that the elevation of the land surface had a net decline of 124 to 9 mm ±54 mm (0.41 to 0.03 ft ±0.18 ft) during the 9-year period. Changes at 9 of the 13 monuments exceeded the maximum expected uncertainty of ±54 mm (±0.18 ft) at the 95-percent confidence level, indicating that subsidence occurred at these monuments between June 1996 and August 2005. GPS measurements made at 20 geodetic monuments in 2000 and in 2005 indicate that the elevation of the land surface changed –192 to +51 mm ±36 mm (–0.63 to +0.17 ft ±0.12 ft) during the 5-year period. Changes at 6 of the 20 monuments exceeded the maximum expected uncertainty of ±36 mm (±0.12 ft) at the 95-percent confidence level—subsidence occurred at five monuments and uplift occurred at one monument between August 2000 and August 2005. GPS measurements at two of the five subsiding monuments for which subsidence rates could be compared indicate that subsidence rates decreased during this period compared with subsidence rates before 2000.
InSAR measurements made between May 7, 2003, and September 25, 2005, indicate that land subsidence, ranging from about 75 to 180 millimeters (0.25 to 0.59 foot), occurred in three areas of the Coachella Valley: near Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and La Quinta; the equivalent subsidence rates range from about 3 to more than 6 mm/month (0.01 to 0.02 ft/month). The subsiding areas near Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and La Quinta were previously identified using InSAR measurements for 1996–2000, which indicated that about 35 to 150 mm (0.11 to 0.49 ft) of subsidence occurred during the four-year period; the equivalent subsidence rates range from about 1 to 3 mm/month (0.003 to 0.01 ft/month). Comparison of the InSAR results indicates that subsidence rates have increased 2 to 4 times since 2000 in these three areas.
Water-level measurements made at wells near the subsiding monuments and in the three subsiding areas generally indicated that the water levels fluctuated seasonally and declined annually between 1996 and 2005; some water levels in 2005 were at the lowest levels in their recorded histories. The coincident areas of subsidence and declining water levels suggest that aquifer-system compaction may be causing subsidence. If the stresses imposed by the historically lowest water levels exceeded the preconsolidation stress, the aquifer-system compaction and associated land subsidence may be permanent. Although the localized character of the subsidence signals is typical of the type of subsidence characteristically caused by localized ground-water pumping, the subsidence may also be related to tectonic activity in the valley.