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Calif. drought causing sinking land, 'billions' in damage

Calif. drought causing sinking land, 'billions' in damage
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California’s four-year-old drought has caused land in the state to sink, leading to potential repair bills worth billions of dollars. 

The drought has led California to pump so much groundwater that areas of the state’s Central Valley have sunk at a rate of more than one foot per year in some places, The Associated Press reported this weekend. 

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Officials told the AP that the sinking is one of the "single largest alterations of the land surface attributed to humankind."

Years of low snow packs in the Sierra Nevada mountains have forced California to pump water from underground reserves to meet residential and agricultural demand.

Those water stores traditionally account for about 40 percent of the state’s annual water usage, but that figure rises to about 65 percent during a drought.

Overpumping during the current drought has led to damaged water infrastructure around the state. Replacing a bridge in one California irrigation district could cost $2.5 million, and building a new canal elsewhere recently cost $4.5 million. 

Those bills are just the beginning. A researcher told the AP that the long-term costs for post-drought irrigation repairs is “probably in the billions.”

A strong El Niño weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean is likely to bring drought relief to California this winter. The State’s Department of Water Resources said Monday that much of the Sierra Nevada mountains have above-average snowpacks for the current date. 

But El Niño is also expected to bring punishing rainstorms to California, a worrying prospect for officials in the parched state. 

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that officials are developing flooding evacuation plans, putting up protective barriers and clearing out wildfire debris fields to mitigate any flooding and mudslides that a wet El Niño might bring. 

“The drought, it's just made this whole situation worse,” Deborah Wong, a deputy director for the California Department of Transportation, told the LA Times.