Did climate change cause this?

I’ve been lately hearing through the grapevine that ground on which properties sit around Fresno, California – where I make my home – has been sinking. Though I could be pulling your leg here, this time, however, I’m not. It’s really going on.

That ground is compacting, compressing or sinking throughout this and other parts of the San Joaquin Valley is nothing new. What seems to be new or is new to me anyway, is that this condition, also known as subsidence, seems to be adversely affecting the structural integrity of buildings, infrastructure like water-delivery systems such as canals, and more this time around.

In fact, I saw a report on the local news about a roof or building collapse here in the Fresno area, the cause of which, at the time of the report not then known. And, the building, at the time of the cave-in, was not, I repeat, was not in a state of arrested decay. It appeared it had been in a structurally sound condition.

So, why the collapse? Termites? Did sinking ground underneath contribute to the roof failure? I have since not heard anything more on it.

I have also heard of other occurrences of people’s homes here having related issues.

Where building structural integrity has been affected, two remedies seem to be being applied in these circumstances. One involves the injection into the ground below the impacted area of a type of foam, which after application expands and thereby raised up is whatever is sitting on top of it. An example would be of a sunken-in walkway or a patio.

The other type of repair is the more involved repair which is basically a whole infrastructure rebuild, but this would be reserved, typically, for those more extreme cases.

By now, you’re probably thinking this is all very interesting and everything, but what does this have to do with air quality? You’d be surprised.

The introduction of anthropogenically driven greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane has contributed to the warming of the air at the earth’s surface. In more recent years in the Valley and in the western and southwestern regions of the U.S. especially, due to the steady rise in average surface temperatures, such change has put added pressures on local groundwater supplies and even on water delivery infrastructure. In fact, conditions at times had gotten so concerning, that, a few years ago during the height of the western U.S. drought, area farmers were either asked or instructed to fallow their fields. Not all farm fields were fallowed mind you, but a good many were.

As subsurface aquifers were drawn from, after continued and steady drafting from this supply, water tables dropped. As levels kept dropping, this was followed by a corresponding compaction of the land and soils above.

Over time, subsidence can be substantial. It is not uncommon for land in some locations to be depressed by as much as 30 feet or more.

The question of whether the sinking can be reversed, in reference to that, what I have been repeatedly hearing about is a concept known as groundwater recharging and the process by which this is facilitated is known as ground percolation. As to how much these subsurface aquifers can be replenished, as of this writing, of this I am not sure.

Being enough related damage has already been done, what seems to me to be the solution is to reduce if not eliminate the pressure on the atmosphere. And, what it’s going to take to bring this about is a concerted, sustained commitment to reduce human-contributed greenhouse gas and other harmful pollutant emissions in the air.

While other folks around the country and the world may be unaware of our water predicament here, we who live in the San Joaquin Valley, know it all too well. The question is: What are people willing to do (can anything be done) about it?

Many in this area are calling for increased water-storage capacity and that to many means building dams. Before being approved for constructing, those, however, need to be environmentally cleared.

Apparently, we don’t have it as dire here as what people in rural Arizona communities are facing. But, that doesn’t mean the Valley doesn’t have its own pressures. It does. I know of one instance, in fact, where a Valley community’s entire water supply went dry. It is located in the Porterville area of the Valley.

Another solution is through water conservation efforts: just trying to get folks to just use less.

A third method is to repurpose the water used to wash clothes, for example, to water lawns or shrubs and other types of plants rather than to just let it go down the drain.

The hope here is that people will get and keep with the program, vowing to be part of the solution and not be, well, you know, a drain. With everyone pitching in, we can make a difference!

Update: Sept. 16, 2023 at 5:44 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

⁃ Alan Kandel

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Corresponding, connected home-page-featured image: T.C. Winter, J.W. Harvey, O.L. Franke, W.M. Alley, U.S. Geological Survey via Wikimedia Commons