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Fact Sheet 005-00

U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY
Fact Sheet 005-00

Delta subsidence in California; the sinking heart of the state

By Ingebritsen, S.E., Ikehara, M.E., Galloway, D.L., Jones, D.R.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta of California once was a great tidal freshwater marsh blanketed by peat and peaty alluvium. Beginning in the late 1800s, levees were built along the stream channels, and the land thus protected from flooding was drained, cleared, and planted. Although the Delta is now an exceptionally rich agricultural area (over a $500 million crop value in 1993), its unique value is as a source of freshwater for the rest of the State. It is the heart of a massive north-to-south waterdelivery system. Much of this water is pumped southward for use in the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere in central and southern California. The leveed tracts and islands help to protect water-export facilities in the southern Delta from saltwater intrusion by displacing water and maintaining favorable freshwater gradients. However, ongoing subsidence behind the levees reduces levee stability and, thus, threatens to degrade water quality in the massive north-to-south water-transfer system.

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