A Drought-hit US Town Finds Itself Sinking Into The Ground.
“There are too many farmers pumping everywhere,” Raúl Atilano complained. This octogenarian resident of Corcoran, California’s self-proclaimed agricultural capital, was struggling to make sense of the strangest phenomenon: His already long-suffering city is sinking, very gradually, to the ground.
A steady stream of trucks hauling tomatoes, alfalfa, or cotton to the outskirts of this city of 20,000 shows how inextricably Corcoran’s fate is tied to the intensive agriculture practiced here.
To irrigate their vast fields and help feed America, farm operators began pumping water from underground sources in the last century, so much so that the soil has begun to sink; imagine a series of giant straws sucking up groundwater faster than rain can replace. as the hydrologist, Anne Senter explained to AFP.
Interestingly, the signs of this subsidence are almost invisible to the human eye. There are no cracks in the walls of the typical American stores in the center of town, nor cracks that open in the streets or fields: to measure the subsidence, the Californian authorities had to turn to NASA, which used satellites to analyze the geological change.
And yet, in the last 100 years, Corcoran has sunk “the equivalent of a two-story house,” Jeanine Jones, manager of the California Department of Water Resources, told AFP.
The phenomenon “can be a threat to infrastructure, groundwater wells, dikes, aqueducts,” he said.
The only recognizable sign of this dangerous change is a levee on the outskirts of the city, in an area where wisps of cotton fly through the air. In 2017, authorities launched a major project to raise the levee, fearing that the city, which sits in a basin, will flood … when the rains finally return.
This year, however, the problem has not been flooding but an alarming drought exacerbated by climate change.
It has transformed this American food basket into a vast field of brown dust, forcing authorities to impose water use restrictions on farmers.
So Corcoran is now in the middle of a vicious cycle: with their limited water supplies, agricultural operators are forced to pump more groundwater, which in turn accelerates the city’s sinking.
Few locals have spoken out against the problem, which is not surprising, since most work for the same large agricultural companies that pump groundwater.
“They are afraid that if they speak out against them, they will lose their job,” Atilano said. He spent years working for one of the nation’s largest cotton producers, JG Boswell, whose name is seen on thousands of cotton-filled cloth bags stacked around town.
“I don’t care,” he adds with a smile. “I’ve been retired for 22 years.”
As large agricultural operations have become more and more mechanized and industrialized, requiring less and less local labor, the city’s own inhabitants have plunged into a debilitating economic and psychological depression.
One-third of the majority Hispanic population here now lives in poverty. The three movie theaters that once gave life to the city have closed their doors.
“A lot of people are moving,” said 77-year-old local resident Raúl Gómez.
On this summer afternoon, under a crushing heatwave, some people have stopped to chat under a huge wall painting.
It represents a clear blue lake surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks; for now, a distant dream.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsGater staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)