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Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4015

Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4015

Aquifer-System Compaction and Land Subsidence: Measurements, Analyses, and Simulations—the Holly Site, Edwards Air Force Base, Antelope Valley, California

By Michelle Sneed and D.L. Galloway


Land subsidence resulting from ground-water-level declines has long been recognized as a problem in Antelope Valley, California. At Edwards Air Force Base (EAFB), ground-water extractions have caused more than 150 feet of water-level decline, resulting in nearly 4 feet of subsidence. Differential land subsidence has caused sinklike depressions and earth fissures and has accelerated erosion of the playa lakebed surface of Rogers Lake at EAFB, adversely affecting the runways on the lakebed which are used for landing aircraft such as the space shuttles. Since 1990, about 0.4 foot of aquifer-system compaction has been measured at a deep (840 feet) borehole extensometer (Holly site) at EAFB. More than 7 years of paired ground-water-level and aquifer-system compaction measurements made at the Holly site were analyzed for this study. Annually, seasonal water-level fluctuations correspond to steplike variations in aquifer-system compaction; summer water-level drawdowns are associated with larger rates of compaction, and winter water-level recoveries are associated with smaller rates of compaction. The absence of aquifer-system expansion during recovery is consistent with the delayed drainage and resultant delayed, or residual, compaction of thick aquitards.

A numerical one-dimensional MODFLOW model of aquitard drainage was used to refine estimates of aquifer-system hydraulic parameters that control compaction and to predict potential future compaction at the Holly site. The analyses and simulations of aquifer-system compaction are based on established theories of aquitard drainage. Historical ground-water-level and land-subsidence data collected near the Holly site were used to constrain simulations of aquifer-system compaction and land subsidence at the site for the period 1908–90, and ground-water-level and aquifer-system compaction measurements collected at the Holly site were used to constrain the model for the period 1990–97.

Model results indicate that two thick aquitards, which total 129 feet or about half the aggregate thickness of all the aquitards penetrated by the Holly boreholes, account for most (greater than 99 percent) of the compaction measured at the Holly site during the period 1990–97. The results of three scenarios of future water-level changes indicate that these two thick aquitards account for most of the future compaction. The results also indicate that if water levels decline to about 30 feet below the 1997 water levels an additional 1.7 feet of compaction may occur during the next 30 years. If water levels remain at 1997 levels, the model predicts that only 0.8 foot of compaction may occur during the same period, and even if water levels recover to about 30 feet above 1997 water levels, another 0.5 foot of compaction may occur in the next 30 years. In addition, only a portion of the compaction that ultimately will occur likely will occur within the next 30 years; therefore, the residual compaction and associated land subsidence attributed to slowly equilibrating aquitards is important to consider in the long-term management of land and water resources at EAFB.


Hydrogeologic Setting
Analytical Approach
Parameter Range Estimates
Holly Model
References Cited

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Send questions or comments about this report to the author, Michelle Sneed, (916) 278-3119.

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