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WHAT IS AN EARTH FISSURE?

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Arizona is home to hundreds of “earth fissures”—cracks on or near the soil surface caused by decades of removing more groundwater than the rain and snow can replenish.

Earth fissures are scattered around Arizona’s valleys, and there’s no telling when they will transform from harmless cracks to huge gullies.

The ground is sinking because we’ve pumped so much water for so long out of the underground aquifers. In fact, the state is pumping water out 100 times faster than nature can replenish it.

The result: Water tables have dropped by up to 350 feet, leaving the sand, gravel, silt or clay that makes up the soil too dry and compact to hold itself together. So it cracks and shrinks, and eventually, like a house of cards, it collapses. A torrential downpour—the kind we get most summers—hurries it along.

This wasn’t much of a problem years ago when the valleys were home mostly to large farms and just a few, scattered houses. Today, however, homes are all over the place—and some are dangerously close to fissures.

Rosie’s tip: Don’t buy a home that’s built on or near one.

How can you tell? Go to the Web site of the Arizona Geological Survey’s Earth Fissure Center (http://www.azgs.az.gov/EFC.shtml). You’ll find maps there that show where some of the state’s fissures are located. The Arizona Geographic Information Council (http://agic.az.gov) soon will update maps that show every known fissure in Maricopa, Pinal, Pima and Cochise counties

  • Sanderson Ford

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