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Detection and measurement of land subsidence and uplift using Global Positioning System surveys and interferometric synthetic aperture radar, Coachella Valley, California, 2010–17

September 3, 2020

Groundwater has been a major source of agricultural, recreational, municipal, and domestic supply in the Coachella Valley of California since the early 1920s. Pumping of groundwater resulted in groundwater-level declines as large as 50 feet (ft) or 15 meters (m) by the late 1940s. Because of concerns that the declines could cause land subsidence, the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have cooperatively investigated subsidence in the Coachella Valley since 1996. 

Importation of Colorado River water to the southern Coachella Valley began in 1949, resulting in a reduction in groundwater pumping and a recovery of groundwater levels during the 1950s through the 1970s. Since the late 1970s, the demand for water in the valley increased to the point that groundwater levels again declined in response to increased pumping and, consequently, increased the potential for land subsidence caused by aquifer-system compaction. Several management actions to increase recharge or to reduce reliance on groundwater have been implemented since as early as 1973 to address overdraft in the Coachella Valley. The implementation of three particular projects has markedly improved groundwater conditions in some of the historically most overdrafted areas of the valley: (1) groundwater substitution with surface-water imports since 2006 using Colorado River water through the Mid-Valley Pipeline project, which was expanded through 2017; (2) budget-based, tiered rates since 2009; and (3) managed aquifer recharge at the Thomas E. Levy Groundwater Replenishment Facility since 2009. 

Global Positioning System (GPS) surveying and interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) methods were used to determine the location, extent, and magnitude of the vertical land-surface changes in the Coachella Valley during 2010–17, updating 1993–2010 information presented in previous USGS reports. The GPS measurements taken at 24 geodetic monuments in August 2010 and September 2015 indicated that the land-surface elevation was stable at 17 monuments but changed at seven monuments during the 5-year period. Subsidence ranged from 0.17 to 0.43 ±0.09 ft (52 to 132 ±28 millimeters, or mm) at three monuments, and uplift ranged from 0.11 to 0.18 ±0.09 ft (33 to 54 ±28 mm) at four monuments between 2010 and 2015. At two of the monuments that subsided, the subsidence rates decreased between 2010 and 2015 from those computed between 2005 and 2010. Data prior to 2010 were not available for the third monument that subsided; thus, the 2010–15 subsidence rate could not be compared to an earlier period. At three of the monuments that uplifted between 2010 and 2015, data collected in 2005 and 2010 indicated stability. Data prior to 2010 were not available for the fourth monument that uplifted; thus, the 2010–15 uplift rate could not be compared to an earlier period. 

InSAR analyses for December 28, 2014–June 27, 2017, indicated that the land surface uplifted as much as about 0.20 ft (60 mm) near the Whitewater River Groundwater Replenishment Facility in the northern Coachella Valley and subsided as much as about 0.26 ft (80 mm) in the La Quinta area and less in Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and other localized areas in the southern Coachella Valley. These areas were identified as subsidence areas in previous reports covering periods during 1993–2010. The comparison of 2014–17 subsidence rates with those derived for 1995–2010 generally indicated a substantial slowing of subsidence, however. Analyses of deformation in the northern Coachella Valley were not included in the previous reports, so a comparison to deformation during the earlier period could not be made. 

Water levels in wells near the subsiding geodetic monuments, in and near the three subsiding areas shown by InSAR, and throughout the valley generally indicated seasonal fluctuations and longer-term stability or rising groundwater levels since about 2010. These results mark a reversal in trends of groundwater-level declines during the preceding decades. This trend reversal provides new insights into aquifer-system mechanics. Although many areas have stopped subsiding, and a few have even uplifted, the few areas that did subside during 2010–17—albeit at a slower rate—indicate a mixed aquifer-system response. Subsidence when groundwater levels are stable or recovering indicates that residual compaction may have occurred. At the same time, coarse-grained materials and thin aquitards may have expanded as groundwater levels recovered. The continued valley-wide stabilization and recovery of groundwater levels since 2010 likely is a result of various projects designed to increase recharge or to reduce reliance on groundwater. 

Publication Year 2020
Title Detection and measurement of land subsidence and uplift using Global Positioning System surveys and interferometric synthetic aperture radar, Coachella Valley, California, 2010–17
DOI 10.3133/sir20205093
Authors Michelle Sneed, Justin T. Brandt
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2020-5093
Index ID sir20205093
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center