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The Use of InSAR to Map Changes in Groundwater Storage in the San Joaquin Valley, California

The Place

The southern portion of the San Joaquin Valley, California

The Problem

This dry, agricultural area accounts for roughly 10% of the pumped groundwater in the United States.  Because of the high water demand of the crops that are grown, large volumes of groundwater are required to irrigate the crops.  Groundwater pumping in this area has caused significant declines in groundwater levels over the past century, leading to subsidence as high as 10 m over this time period.  Water managers are concerned that the subsidence represents a permanent loss of storage.

Our Approach

Using Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar (InSAR), we can measure subsidence with cm-scale accuracy over large areas.  We have processed InSAR data over the study area from 2007-2010.  Using groundwater level data, geologic models, and knowledge of the geomechanical properties of sediments in the area, in conjunction with InSAR, we estimated the permanent loss of groundwater storage.

Results to date

Our results show that the vast majority (98%) of subsidence in our study area is related to the permanent loss of groundwater storage.  By volume this is 7.48×〖10〗^8  m3 of groundwater storage, or roughly 9% of the volume of groundwater used from 2007-2010.

a) Lower estimate of permanent subsidence (54% of observed subsidence calculated as permanent). b) Upper, more reasonable estimate of permanent subsidence (98% of observed subsidence calculated as permanent). Wells used in the study are shown as plus symbols.

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