"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Groundwater Depletion’

“What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?”: Rich Californians Balk At limits, Increase Water Use By 9%

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2015 at 4:02 pm

Riley, a Labrador Retriever, plays in a pool at a residence in Rancho Santa Fe, California. (Sandy Huffaker/The Washington Post)

Oldspeak:”I think we’re being overly penalized, and we’re certainly being overly scrutinized by the world… You could put 20 houses on my property, and they’d have families of at least four. In my house, there is only two of us, so they’d be using a hell of a lot more water than we’re using.” -Gay Butler, Interior Designer, Rancho Santa Fe, California

“Interesting piece. While the attitudes of people like this well-to-do party member are abominable and ignorant, They are completely predictable and logical, for persons reared, nurtured, educated, and benefiting disproportionately unquestioning, within a system of infinite growth and consumption. These people have internalized the world view of their oppressor; Inverted Corptalitarian Kleptocracy or Industrial Civilization.  What’s left unsaid is how these people reflect, the nature of the life-extinguishing culture and environment in which they live. Also unsaid is how insignificant the actions of these people and most people is when compared to the actions of our most spoiled and privileged “citizens”:  energy, agribusiness, and water bottling corporations who consume and poison more water than any actually citizen could, and have had none of the usage restrictions placed on them, that have been placed on humans. No questioning of the suicidal implications of this decision. No attention is drawn to the ongoing and ever expanding extraction and destruction of irreplaceably essential resources for a “profit” by said “citizens”. In the context of the destruction of our world, we have to at least wonder, is profit worth most all that lives on earth?” -OSJ

Written By Rob Kuznia @ The Washington Post:

Drought or no drought, Steve Yuhas resents the idea that it is somehow shameful to be a water hog. If you can pay for it, he argues, you should get your water.

People “should not be forced to live on property with brown lawns, golf on brown courses or apologize for wanting their gardens to be beautiful,” Yuhas fumed recently on social media. “We pay significant property taxes based on where we live,” he added in an interview. “And, no, we’re not all equal when it comes to water.”

Yuhas lives in the ultra-wealthy enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, a bucolic Southern California hamlet of ranches, gated communities and country clubs that guzzles five times more water per capita than the statewide average. In April, after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called for a 25 percent reduction in water use, consumption in Rancho Santa Fe went up by 9 percent.

But a moment of truth is at hand for Yuhas and his neighbors, and all of California will be watching: On July 1, for the first time in its 92-year history, Rancho Santa Fe will be subject to water rationing.

“It’s no longer a ‘You can only water on these days’ ” situation, said Jessica Parks, spokeswoman for the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which provides water service to Rancho Santa Fe and other parts of San Diego County. “It’s now more of a ‘This is the amount of water you get within this billing period. And if you go over that, there will be high penalties.’ ”

So far, the community’s 3,100 residents have not felt the wrath of the water police. Authorities have issued only three citations for violations of a first round of rather mild water restrictions announced last fall. In a place where the median income is $189,000, where PGA legend Phil Mickelson once requested a separate water meter for his chipping greens, where financier Ralph Whitworth last month paid the Rolling Stones $2 million to play at a local bar, the fine, at $100, was less than intimidating.

All that is about to change, however. Under the new rules, each household will be assigned an essential allotment for basic indoor needs. Any additional usage — sprinklers, fountains, swimming pools — must be slashed by nearly half for the district to meet state-mandated targets.

Residents who exceed their allotment could see their already sky-high water bills triple. And for ultra-wealthy customers undeterred by financial penalties, the district reserves the right to install flow restrictors — quarter-size disks that make it difficult to, say, shower and do a load of laundry at the same time.

In extreme cases, the district could shut off the tap altogether.

The restrictions are among the toughest in the state, and residents of Rancho Santa Fe are feeling aggrieved.

“I think we’re being overly penalized, and we’re certainly being overly scrutinized by the world,” said Gay Butler, an interior designer out for a trail ride on her show horse, Bear. She said her water bill averages about $800 a month.

“It angers me because people aren’t looking at the overall picture,” Butler said. “What are we supposed to do, just have dirt around our house on four acres?”

Rancho Santa Fe residents are hardly the only Californians facing a water crackdown. On Friday, the state said it would impose sharp cutbacks on senior water rights dating back to the Gold Rush for the first time in four decades, a move that primarily hits farmers. And starting this month, all of California’s 400-plus water districts are under orders to reduce flow by at least 8 percent from 2013 levels.

Top water users such as Rancho Santa Fe are required to cut consumption by 36 percent. Other areas in the 36-percent crosshairs include much of the Central Valley, a farming region that runs up the middle of the state, and Orange County, a ritzy Republican stronghold between San Diego and Los Angeles.

“I call it the war on suburbia,” said Brett Barbre, who lives in the Orange County community of Yorba City, another exceptionally wealthy Zip code.

Barbre sits on the 37-member board of directors of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a huge water wholesaler serving 17 million customers. He is fond of referring to his watering hose with Charlton Heston’s famous quote about guns: “They’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands.”

“California used to be the land of opportunity and freedom,” Barbre said. “It’s slowly becoming the land of one group telling everybody else how they think everybody should live their lives.”

Jurgen Gramckow, a sod farmer north of Los Angeles in Ventura County, agrees. He likens the freedom to buy water to the freedom to buy gasoline.

“Some people have a Prius; others have a Suburban,” Gramckow said. “Once the water goes through the meter, it’s yours.”

Yuhas, who hosts a conservative talk-radio show, abhors the culture of “drought-shaming” that has developed here since the drought began four years ago, especially the aerial shots of lavish lawns targeted for derision on the local TV news.

“I’m a conservative, so this is strange, but I defend Barbra Streisand’s right to have a green lawn,” said Yuhas, who splits his time between Rancho Santa Fe and Los Angeles. “When we bought, we didn’t plan on getting a place that looks like we’re living in an African savanna.”

Others are embarrassed by such defiance. Parks of the Sante Fe Irrigation District said she was mortified when the report came out earlier this month showing that Rancho Santa Fe had increased its water use — the only community in the region to do so.

“I kind of take it personally,” she said last week as she toured the community in an SUV bearing the water district’s logo.

Parks said she doesn’t know exactly what happened, but she has heard rumors that some people jacked up their water use in a misguided attempt to increase their baseline before rationing kicks in. With sprinkler restrictions already in place, she said the dynamic between local gardeners and her small team of enforcers is getting interesting.

“Everyone seems now to know what our cars look like,” she said. In Fairbanks Ranch, a gated community, “whenever one of our trucks go in, the gardeners all seem to call each other — text-message each other — to let them know that we’ve arrived. So then all of a sudden we see water kind of draining off the property but no sprinklers on.”

Because the restrictions that took effect in September didn’t register, the district further tightened the screws this month. Sprinkler days were reduced from three a week to two, while car-washing and garden fountains were banned altogether.

Holly Manion, a real estate agent who has lived on the Ranch, as it’s often called, for most of her 62 years, supports the restrictions. Although Manion cherishes the landscape of manicured lawns and burbling fountains that has long defined the Ranch, she thinks the drought requires a new way of life that emphasizes water conservation.

“Just take a drive around the area. You’ll see lakes low, rivers dry and hillsides parched,” Manion said, adding that she is appalled by people who tolerate leaking sprinklers and the resulting cascades of wasted water.

“There are people, they aren’t being responsible,” she said. “They’re just thinking of their own lives.”

Ann Boon, president of the Rancho Santa Fe Association, insists that most residents are taking the drought seriously. She said she was shocked by the reported 9 percent increase, arguing that it “must be some anomaly.”

“Everybody has been trying to cut back,” she said.

For example, many Rancho Santa Fe residents have enthusiastically embraced drought-tolerant landscaping. Manion took advantage of a rebate to rip out much of the turf on her three-acre property and replace it with succulents and decomposed-granite pathways. She left only a small patch of grass for her two dogs to play on.

“It makes me happy when I look at it, because it’s thriving,” she said.

Butler said she, too, is replacing grass with drought-friendly native landscaping on her four acres, at a cost of nearly $80,000. (She’ll get a rebate for about $12,000.) But she came to the decision grudgingly, she said. And she defends the amount of water she and her neighbors need for their vast estates.

“You could put 20 houses on my property, and they’d have families of at least four. In my house, there is only two of us,” Butler said. So “they’d be using a hell of a lot more water than we’re using.”

Rancho Santa Fe resident Randy Woods was feeling burdened by his lush landscape and opted to downsize. The 60-something chief executive of a biotech company moved a year ago from a two-acre estate — replete with two waterfalls, two Jacuzzis, a swimming pool and an orchard — to a condo in the tiny core of town known as “the Village.”

Woods said some of his friends would like to do the same, largely to cut down on their bloated water bills. But they have encountered an unforeseen obstacle, he said: The drought has dampened demand for large estates in San ­Diego County.

Woods said his girlfriend is among those struggling to sell. Her home boasts a yard designed by Kate Sessions, a well-known landscape architect and botanist who died in 1940. But now, the rare palm tree specimens, the secret garden and the turret-shaped hedges are a liability rather than a selling point.

Another friend, Woods said, has seen the value of his nine-acre plot plummet from $30 million to $22 million.

As for Woods, his monthly water bill has shriveled from $500 to around $50.

“My friends,” he said, “are all jealous.”

“At some point those aquifers might run dry.”: NASA Study Indicates World Is Running Out Of Groundwater. Fast.

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2015 at 7:15 pm
Photos of India's Deadly, Street-Melting Heat Wave

A young boy, son of a laborer, walks to a water pump to fill his bottle with drinking water in Ghasera, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, May 27, 2015. Photo: Saurabh Das/AP

Oldspeak: “As temperatures rise and conditions worsen, this existential crisis that is being largely ignored on corporate infotainment streams, will continue to become more severe. Climate refugees are streaming into Europe from a thoroughly parched Africa, though they’re being referred to as “migrants”. Expect the flow of “migrants” to increase as time passes and the heat goes up. The U.N. Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson, recently said: “In 10 years, 2 billion people will be living in regions with absolute water scarcity. 2/3rds of the world will live under water stress conditions.” That syncs up with a 2013 survey of U.S. State water managers, where 40 of 50 managers said they expect to see current regional water shortages continue into at least the next decade. This is an intractable global problem. It affects all life on Earth. Yet water intensive agricultural, mining, energy and technological production industries plunder on, wholly committed to unsustainable systems of extraction, with little to no regard for regeneration, as though water resources are infinite. We waste and posion soooo much water in service to vulture capitalist profiteers. This ecocidal madness will only stop when there is no clean water left. Then what?.” -OSJ

Written By Gabriel Fisher @ Quartz:

The world is losing groundwater, fast.

That is the conclusion of a new study published by researchers at NASA, which drew on satellite data to quantify the stresses on aquifers. The researchers found that over the decade-long study of the 37 major aquifers worldwide, 21 experienced a depletion of their water supply. Especially alarming was the study’s finding that the Indus Basin aquifer, which supplies much of India’s water supply, has depleted rapidly.

“The potential consequences are pretty scary,” NASA scientist Matthew Roddell, a lead author of the study, tells Quartz. “At some point those aquifers might run dry.”

To measure the water level changes, the researchers studied the gravitational orbit of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite caused by the shifting of earth’s mass. Because water is one of the larger and constantly shifting masses on earth, this allowed them to measure changes to groundwater supplies.

The researchers found that California’s Central Valley aquifer was the most depleted of all aquifers in the US, because Californians have relied more heavily on drawing groundwater as rain water has dissipated during California’s long drought.

While the study detected the change in groundwater levels, it could not quantify the amount of water remaining in the aquifers. Rodell said this would require drilling into the aquifers themselves, which he supports doing. “We should be monitoring and quantifying how much water is in these aquifers like we do with oil,” he says.

Preserving water in aquifers is especially problematic in agricultural areas like India, which relies heavily on water-intensive rice farming. According to Rodell, over 68% of our water supply is used for agriculture. But unlike, say, water used to cool a power plant, water used in agriculture is not recyclable, Rodell explains. “The people who are using the water don’t necessarily recognize that it will ever run out. It is used as a resource that will last forever,” Rodell says. If we continue with our current consumption practices, hesays,”these people and those farmers that rely on that water won’t have it anymore.”

The Global Water Crisis Is Getting Harder To Ignore: California’s Water Crisis Is Coming Soon To The Rest Of America

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2015 at 2:37 pm
Trinity Lake drought California

Trinity Lake, a (former) major water reservoir.

Oldspeak: “Vice TV recently did a great piece on India’s Water Crisis, that’s worth a watch. India is most definitely in a fucked up situation that’s due in to part to cultural norms, poor resource management and overpopulation. The story gets really interesting around the 7 minute mark, when they start talking to scientists and the U.N. Deputy Secretary General, and they extrapolate the Indian problem to the global level. A couple interesting quotes: “Irrespective of countries, if water is polluted, if water is not pure, then nobody can survive on earth” –Dr. B.D. Tripathi. “In 10 years, 2 billion people will be in regions with absolute water scarcity. 2/3s of the world will live under water-stress conditions” –Jan Eliasson, U.N. Deputy Secretary General. And what was spoken about in that Vice report is echoed in the article to follow. “While the rest of the US hasn’t been ordered to reduce water use, that doesn’t mean we have a free pass to use as much water as we want. Many states — 4o out of 50 according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office — have at least one region that’s expected to face some kind of water shortage in the next 10 years.” I have a strong suspicion that these estimates are significantly underestimated. Distinguished scientists are observing that climate change is rapidly accelerating. Major cities worldwide are in the throes of drought right now. It’s only logical to expect that this accelerating change will only become more rapid as temperatures increase and business as usual industrial civilization plunders on. Add to that the deliberate and widespread poisoning of fresh water supplies by humans via energy and agricultural production, and the water scarcity situation is very dire indeed. It will only be possible to ignore this life-altering reality for so much longer.” –OSJ

By Ellie Kinkaid @ Business Insider:

Americans tend to take it for granted that when we open a tap, water will come out.

Western states have been dealing with water problems for a while, but they won’t be alone for long.

As drought, flooding, and climate change restrict America’s water supply, demands from population growth and energy production look set to increase, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

These two changes squeeze our natural water reserves from both directions. The stress is becoming clear and will soon manifest as water scarcity problems all over our country.

The California problem

Over the last four years, Californians have gotten a big wake-up call, as drought forces them to reconsider water as a scarce commodity.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the region’s water supplier, will deliver 15% less water to cities in the greater Los Angeles area starting in July. The supplier won’t cut off delivering water if demand is more than the quota, but it’ll charge local utility companies that sell residents water up to four times more than the normal rate for the excess. And naturally, the utility companies will pass the cost on to their customers.

The water companies’ cuts are a reaction to California Governor Jerry Brown’s executive order that cities throughout the state reduce the amount of water they use by 25% — a groundbreaking mandate from the Governor’s office to limit water use for the first time ever.

A looming national issue

While the rest of the US hasn’t been ordered to reduce water use, that doesn’t mean we have a free pass to use as much water as we want. Many states — 4o out of 50 according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office — have at least one region that’s expected to face some kind of water shortage in the next 10 years.

Here’s what that looks like:

GAO estimate of water shortages

Government Accountability Office Water managers in 40 our of 50 states expect shortages in some part of their state within the next 10 years.

In some cases, shortages happen when there’s not enough fresh water suitable for human use in the lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and aquifers we can access. Rain and snowfall does replace the water we take from these sources, but that refill takes time and depends on actually getting precipitation. Drought-stricken California, for example, has a much reduced snowpack this year compared to 2010, its last near-normal year. Less snowpack means less snow to melt and refill the state’s reservoirs with fresh water people can use.

According to Tim Davis, the Montana Water Resources Division administrator, a water shortage could strike any part of the state in any given year, Elaine S. Povich reports for the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Water demand in Montana just keeps increasing, the state’s 2015 State Water Plan says, while the amount of water available changes from year to year, and even within a year, depending on precipitation. The discrepancy between demand and availability means the state is likely going to encounter a water crisis in the next few years. The state is already making contingency plans for potential drought conditions in the future, Davis told Povich.

In coastal areas of the US, rising sea levels taint fresh water coastal aquifers with salt water, which means that water can’t be consumed anymore without expensive desalination treatment. This is a looming threat for eastern and southern Maryland, according to the Government Accountability Office report.

Those worries are compounded by population growth in central and southern Maryland, which is putting pressure on the water supplies there. Though water managers in Maryland don’t anticipate statewide shortages, they told the GAO some areas may struggle to find enough water for everyone moving in, because there isn’t a feasible way to dramatically increase the amount of water available. So even those of us who live in parts of the country not experiencing drought could stand to put less stress on our water supplies.

In Colorado, officials told the Government Accountability Office they’re keeping an eye on the effects of fracking on the state’s water supply. Using water for fracking could contribute to local shortages in the drought-prone state, which only gets 12-16 inches of precipitation every year. Plus, a previous GAO report highlighted the risk that fracking can contaminate the water supply so people can’t use even the water they normally could.

Also out West, the U.S. Census Bureau projects the populations of Nevada and Arizona will more than double between 2000 and 2030. But those two states get some of the nation’s lowest amounts of precipitation, so more people will be vying to use water resources that already aren’t plentiful.

Everybody’s problem

While any given person may not be directly causing these water issues, everyone plays a role in how much drinkable water there is in the US. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the average American used 88 gallons of water per day in 2010, the latest year it surveyed water use.

The entirety of humanity in America uses 27,400 million gallons per day around the house, for stuff like preparing food, washing clothes, flushing toilets, and watering lawns.

The map below from the U.S. Geological Survey shows how that breaks down by state on a daily basis, which doesn’t even include the water that goes into producing the energy, food, and products we use. (For example, it takes over a gallon of water to grow a single almond.)

total domestic water use 2010 USGS

U.S. Geological Survey A map of domestic water use by state, 2010.

This isn’t just a US problem, either. The water crisis is even worse in many other countries, especially those without good infrastructure to get water from rivers and aquifers. The UN estimates a fifth of the world’s population lives in an area where water is scarce, and another fourth of the world’s people don’t have access to water because countries lack the infrastructure to distribute it.

By 2030, nearly half of everyone in the world will be living in countries highly stressed for water, according to UN predictions. Bank of America Merrill Lynch reports that water scarcity is our biggest problem worldwide, and projects that climate change will only make it worse.

Ready access to water is not something everyone in the world can take for granted, and Americans may not be able to much longer.

Increasing Global Overpumping Of Groudwater Is Contributing To Sea Level Rise

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2015 at 9:29 pm
irrigation

Irrigation in California’s San Joaquin Valley GomezDavid/iStock

Oldspeak: “Perfect example of Humans as the mother of all feedback loops. Human activities created the conditions for mega-droughts, glacial melting and sea level rise. As a result of mega-droughts and glacial melting, humans have to pump more and more unsustainable levels of groundwater out of ancient aquifers that are rapidly running dry. The ever increasing over pumping is in turn contributing to the sea level rise that is already submerging some coastal cities. Seems like we’re on a hamster wheel of doom.” -OSJ

By Tom Knudson @ Reveal:

Pump too much groundwater and wells go dry—that’s obvious.

But there is another consequence that gets little attention as a hotter, drier planet turns increasingly to groundwater for life support.

So much water is being pumped out of the ground worldwide that it is contributing to global sea level rise, a phenomenon tied largely to warming temperatures and climate change.

It happens when water is hoisted out of the earth to irrigate crops and supply towns and cities, then finds its way via rivers and other pathways into the world’s oceans. Since 1900, some 4,500 cubic kilometers of groundwater around the world—enough to fill Lake Tahoe 30 times—have done just that.

“Long-term groundwater depletion represents a large transfer of water from the continents to the oceans,” retired hydrogeologist Leonard Konikow wrote earlier this year in one article. “Thus, groundwater depletion represents a small but nontrivial contributor to SLR [sea-level rise].”

Sea levels have risen 7 to 8 inches since the late 19th century and are expected to rise more rapidly by 2100. The biggest factors are associated with climate change: melting glaciers and other ice and the thermal expansion of warming ocean waters.

Groundwater flowing out to sea added another half-inch—6 to 7 percent of overall sea level rise from 1900 to 2008, Konikow reported in a 2011 article in Geophysical Research Letters. “That really surprised a lot of people,” he said in a recent interview with Reveal.

Konikow also has reported that 1,000 cubic kilometers—twice the volume of Lake Erie—were depleted from aquifers in the US from 1900 to 2008, and the pace of the pumping is increasing.

In California, so much groundwater has been pumped from aquifers in parts of the San Joaquin Valley that the land itself is starting to sink like a giant pie crust, wreaking havoc with roads, bridges and water delivery canals.

Not only is groundwater growing scarce, but we’re pumping out older and older water. In parts of California, cities and farms are tapping reserves that fell to Earth during a much wetter climatic regime—the ice age, a phenomenon that Reveal covered earlier this month and which raises questions about future supplies as the climate turns drier.

Last week, NASA senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti warned that “the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing.”

According to Konikow, groundwater overdraft in the US accounted for about 22 percent of global groundwater depletion from 1900 to 2008, contributing about an eighth of an inch to global sea level rise.

“We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too. We have no paddle to navigate this crisis.” NASA Data Says California Has 1 Year of Water Left.

In Uncategorized on March 17, 2015 at 6:20 pm

A visitor walks near the receding waters at Folsom Lake in California. Nasa data shows that water storage has been in steady decline since at least 2002, before the drought began. Photograph: Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Oldspeak: “Denial is only part of the problem. More significant is the behaviour of powerful people who claim to accept the evidence.” George Monbiot, October 2013

“I was watching The HBO show “Politically Incorrect” earlier. A show hosted by Bill Maher, one of the arbitrators of mainstream left wing thought in the U.S. and recorded in California. He started out his show by including in his opening monologue, a passing and joking reference to this horrifying fact. And never mentioned it again. He spent the rest of the show talking about Iran, how terrible Republicans are and closed the show skewering them for cutting welfare for poor people and repealing the estate tax. Telling, in my view, on the general feeling among Americans, even those who consider themselves “eco/environmental/animal friendly”. Understanding that the situation is existentially dire, yet being laughed off/ignored/not fully accepted. Firmly in the land of denial and cognitive dissonance. Even considering the fact, that A senior NASA scientist has gone to the extremely unusual lengths of writing an OP-ED in a major American news publication to sound the alarm. While at the same time being in deep denial about the prospects. This can only continue for so long. Like about a year. There is no mitigating this, there is no contingency plan that will prevent this from happening. Rationing will not help. We need to start accepting this and planning accordingly.” -OSJ

By Dr. @ The Los Angeles Times:

Given the historic low temperatures and snowfalls that pummeled the eastern U.S. this winter, it might be easy to overlook how devastating California’s winter was as well.

As our “wet” season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.

Extremely low levels of water flowing through meandering streams of the east fork of the San Gabriel River in the Angeles National Forest show the effects of the prolonged drought. The water flows into the San Gabriel Dam and the Morris Dam, further downstream.

Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.

Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought. NASA data reveal that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century.

Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

In short, we have no paddle to navigate this crisis.

Several steps need be taken right now. First, immediate mandatory water rationing should be authorized across all of the state’s water sectors, from domestic and municipal through agricultural and industrial. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is already considering water rationing by the summer unless conditions improve. There is no need for the rest of the state to hesitate. The public is ready. A recent Field Poll showed that 94% of Californians surveyed believe that the drought is serious, and that one-third support mandatory rationing.

Second, the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 should be accelerated. The law requires the formation of numerous, regional groundwater sustainability agencies by 2017. Then each agency must adopt a plan by 2022 and “achieve sustainability” 20 years after that. At that pace, it will be nearly 30 years before we even know what is working. By then, there may be no groundwater left to sustain.
Total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002 … while groundwater depletion has been ongoing since the early 20th century. –

Third, the state needs a task force of thought leaders that starts, right now, brainstorming to lay the groundwork for long-term water management strategies. Although several state task forces have been formed in response to the drought, none is focused on solving the long-term needs of a drought-prone, perennially water-stressed California.

Our state’s water management is complex, but the technology and expertise exist to handle this harrowing future. It will require major changes in policy and infrastructure that could take decades to identify and act upon. Today, not tomorrow, is the time to begin.

Finally, the public must take ownership of this issue. This crisis belongs to all of us — not just to a handful of decision-makers. Water is our most important, commonly owned resource, but the public remains detached from discussions and decisions.

This process works just fine when water is in abundance. In times of crisis, however, we must demand that planning for California’s water security be an honest, transparent and forward-looking process. Most important, we must make sure that there is in fact a plan.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’d like to live in a state that has a paddle so that it might also still have a creek.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

Jay Famiglietti is the senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine.