Chelsea Kilburn


That Sinking Feeling: Subsidence Parables of the San Joaquin Valley

Advised by Danielle Choi

This thesis explores the dissonance between the naturally blurry edge of groundwater and the structures of management that define the surface landscape of California’s San Joaquin Valley. In this region, extreme groundwater extraction causes land subsidence, thus physically and directly altering topography. The project frames a reality where imminent coastal migration leads to a soaring urban population in the Valley, further intensifying the need for extraction that provides drinking water and sustains some of the nation’s most productive agricultural ground. Sites of intervention reveal local groundwater management typologies and imagine near-future scenarios in which design of the landscape can be used to rethink subsidence. Subsidence is reconceived as a generative infrastructural force able to meaningfully shape the ground for the retention, remediation, and distribution of water that can then be utilized in the recharge of a critically depleted aquifer as well as in a speculative subversion of California’s constructed natural history.

Chelsea Kilburn, MLA I AP. 
Benchmark of maximum subsidence in the near-future San Joaquin Valley, year 2050.
Chelsea Kilburn, MLA I AP. 
The San Joaquin Valley, shown here, can be divided roughly into three parts, with the State Water Project canals flowing through the middle.
Chelsea Kilburn, MLA I AP. 
The San Joaquin Valley viewed from the east to the west over the State Water Project canal with the proposed brine line running to San Francisco Bay.
At this site, the parable of putridity at Kettleman City, a rest stop looks out over a gradually subsiding territory. This is a scene of the first stage of the life of the site, where water from the brine line is allowed to flood the area and flow downhill.
Chelsea Kilburn, MLA I AP. 
At the site, the parable of density at the Fresno Fairgrounds, a path on what was formerly a canal for water floats above the water of a lowering ground. This is a scene of the last stage of the life of the site, where groundwater extraction has transformed this place into a new type of artificial recharge project.