Fissures Swallow Arizona Homeowners' Dreams

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Giant fissure outside Summer Martinez's home

This giant fissure -- as big as 10 feet wide and 15 feet deep -- appeared recently outside Summer Martinez's home south of Phoenix. Ted Robbins, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ted Robbins, NPR
Pam Devries

Pam Devries and her husband bought their four-bedroom home just a year ago. She was angry to learn that the fissure on her property was well-documented, yet she wasn't told of its existence. Ted Robbins, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Ted Robbins, NPR

Some people around Phoenix have woken up to find giant holes in their yards, some as big as 10 feet wide and 15 feet deep.

The fissures are the result of decades of groundwater pumping. As the water was removed, the land sank — a process called subsidence. In spots, the subsiding land cracks. It starts small, but when it rains, the clay soil dissolves into the crack and opens up a fissure.

The fissures have been on maps since the 1960s, and weren't a big problem when the land was agricultural. But now suburbs and exurbs are popping up, and homeowners living next to fissures say they weren't told of the problem ahead of time. Few laws seem to govern who's responsible for allowing construction to occur on the unstable land.

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