California drought pits farmers vs. cities. But neither is the biggest water victim
A drought is a threat to everyone, including farmers, cities and the environment. But in California, which has historically enjoyed a bounty of water, the threat has been most keenly felt by farmers and their customers. As the drought worsened, so did the pain.
Water is the lifeblood of agriculture, which produces many of California’s crops and supplies drinking water to millions of people. It’s also the lifeblood of cities like San Diego, whose water consumption in 2013 was about 18 percent higher than the national average. And yet over the past year, both agriculture and cities have suffered in the water equivalent of a 9/11 – water that was essential to their operations and which they were unable to get after a drought.
A big part of the problem is that California doesn’t have adequate water storage to deal with its usual variability. But it can’t be blamed for this. The state, which once set itself an ambitious goal of storing 1 trillion gallons of water annually, actually only managed to store about 6.5 billion gallons last year – most of it coming from the rivers, reservoirs and aquifers, which are built to last.
In fact, the problem here isn’t storage levels, but “droughts and floods, or water shortages or lack of water,” said Gary Segura, senior water consultant at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Water rationing, he added, has been a problem in California since the 1960s. If you’re already at the edge of an emergency, it’s hard to make the system even more stressed.
Segura compared California’s drought-prone state to a car with a flat tire. An air compressor won’t do much to fix a punctured tire, but you can go down to your garage and get a new tire.
This is why when