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The Ground Beneath Our Feet: The Nikola P. Prokopovich Papers on Land Subsidence

Exhibit Details

Dr. Nikola P. Prokopovich (1918-1999) was born in Kiev, Ukraine and came to the United States in 1950. He made his home in Sacramento, where he worked as a geologist with the Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region. Dr. Prokopovich worked out of the Sacramento office from 1958-1986, investigating the geology and geochemistry of California statewide water projects, including the Central Valley Project and the Solano Project. Because of the wide-ranging impact of the Central Valley Project, the Prokopovich papers will be of interest to a number of disciplines: geology; environmental science and policy; water science; soil science; and history, especially history of agriculture.

Prokopovich was an avid field geologist and spent as much time as possible on-site, collecting his own data. He was particularly interested in the engineering geology of the Central Valley Project’s canals and dam sites and in the effects of both the state water projects and field irrigation on the surrounding landscape. The collection includes draft reports, memoranda, and published writings, as well as nearly 25,000 slides and photographs documenting his work and the land around his work sites.

The Central Valley Project

The Central Valley Project (CVP) is a Bureau of Reclamation federal water project designed to provide irrigation and municipal water to California’s Central Valley. Reservoirs in the northern half of the state regulate and store water and a series of canals, aqueducts, and pump plants transport it to the San Joaquin Valley and its surroundings.



Land subsidence occurs when large amounts of ground water have been withdrawn from certain types of rocks, such as fine-grained sediments. The rock compacts because the water is partly responsible for holding the ground up. When the water is withdrawn, the rock falls in on itself.


Subsidence in Delta Peat


Hydrocompaction is the settling and hardening of land due to application of large amounts of water for irrigation.


Monitoring the Environment

Processing of the Nikola P. Prokopovich Papers was generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The University of California, Davis Special Collections was awarded a Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant from 2010-2012, “Uncovering California’s Environmental Collections,” in collaboration with eight additional special collections and archival repositories throughout the state and the California Digital Library (CDL). Grant objectives included processing of over 33 hidden collections related to the state’s environment and environmental history. The collections document an array of important sub-topics such as irrigation, mining, forestry, agriculture, industry, land use, activism, and research. Together they form a multifaceted picture of the natural world and the way it was probed, altered, exploited and protected in California over the twentieth century. Finding aids are made available through the Online Archive of California.

Images (unless otherwise credited) are the property of the Regents of the University of California; no part may be reproduced or used without permission of the Department of Special Collections.