Document Details

Land subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley, California, as of 1972

R.G. Pugh, Joseph F. Poland, B.E. Lofgren, R.L. Ireland | July 10th, 1975

Land subsidence which began in the mid-1920’s due to groundwater overdraft in the San Joaquin Valley has caused widespread concern for the past two decades. Withdrawals for irrigation increased from 3 million acre-feet in 1942 to 10 million acre-feet in 1966. Water levels declined at unprecedented rates during the 1950’s and early 1960’s. Pumping lifts became inordinately high, well casings failed at alarming rates, and differential settlement caused numerous farming and engineering problems. By 1970,5,200 square miles of valley land had been affected, and maximum subsidence exceeded 28 feet. The valley-wide volume of subsidence totaled 15.6 million acre-feet, one-half the initial storage capacity of Lake Mead. This subsidence represents one of the great environmental changes imposed by man.

Importation of surface water to the northwestern and eastern areas of overdraft in the valley began in the 1950’s and to the much larger western and southern areas in the late 1960’s. Canal imports have largely replaced ground-water pumpage in these areas. As of 1973, after three decades of continued declining water levels, many hundreds of irrigation wells are idle and water levels are rising. Throughout much of the valley, artesian pressures are recovering toward their presubsidence levels, and elevations of the subsiding land surface are stabilizing.

Basic-data graphs and computer-plotted stress-strain relationships constitute a major part of this report. They are based on 10-13 years of detailed field measurements of both water-level change and compaction collected by the U.S. Geological Survey at 20 selected locations in the San Joaquin Valley.

The recharge characteristics of a ground-water reservoir are indicated roughly by the volume ratio, which is subsidence/pumpage. In the Los Banos-Kettleman City area, the values of this ratio range from less than 0.2 near the perimeter to more than 0.6 in the central part of the area. In the corresponding parts of the Arvin-Maricopa area, the ratio ranges from near 0 to more than 0.4.


Central Valley, compaction, Groundwater Exchange, groundwater pumping impacts, groundwater recharge, monitoring, subsidence