Decades of mismanagement by California are making the drought worse


California has been living in dream world for decades about water, allowing groundwater to be pumped without regulation, doing comparatively little to reuse and recycle water, and, in general, has seemed lackadaisical about water issues. Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Tucson use substantially less water per capita now compared to twenty years ago, storing water and reusing as much as possible. By contrast, California is the only western state that, until just recently, had no laws regulating water pumped from wells. (California’s newly enacted laws on groundwater pumping won’t help short-term. They will take years to implement and seem designed to be ineffective.)

The predictable result of such a greedy, shortsighted approach is that residential wells are going dry primarily because Big Ag can spend hundreds of thousands to drill deep wells and can then use much water as they want. This causes subsidence in the Central Valley as well as shallow wells going dry. And if too much water is pumped from aquifers, they lose the ability to hold water. What then, Mr. Pistachio Farmer?

The image from TakePart displayed here delineates the California’s problem. It’s a triple whammy of changing climate combined with an aging water infrastructure and archaic water law. Something does indeed have to change. And it is starting to. Pajaro Valley has a cutting edge “showers to flowers” recycling system. San Diego is building a ginormous desal plant. Big cities are beginning to mandate water usage cuts. San Jose just built a “toilet-to-tap” treatment facility. The cleaned-up water is drinkable, yet the city is hesitating about using the water for that for fear the public might be needlessly squeamish. (Vegas has had such facilities for years and the water is used for drinking.) These are all important moves in the right direction. Recycle water. Do more with less.

Naturally, the poor and disadvantaged suffer the most from water shortages.

500 wells in East Porterville have gone dry. The town has no water. Water is being trucked in to fire stations where residents collect it to use for washing, bathing, and drinking. Imagine having to do this on a daily basis. There are plans for a new pipeline, however it will take years. In the meantime, this little town may simply cease to exist.

Stratford still has water, but just barely.

Going into the fourth year of drought, farmers have pumped so much water that the water table below Stratford fell 100 feet in two years. Land in some spots in the Central Valley has dropped a foot a year.

In July, the town well cracked in three places. Household pipes spit black mud, then pale yellow water. After that, taps were dry for two weeks while the water district patched the steel well casing.

Drought is drying up wells everywhere in California, not just in the Central Valley

Landers, a onetime school secretary, does not live in the parched heart of the state: the San Joaquin Valley, where some people get sand when they turn on the faucet.

She has an acre in the Sierra foothills, in a sparsely populated town an hour northeast of Sacramento with a seemingly abundant water supply despite the drought. Except for one thing: Her water comes from a well. And her well, which is shallow, has gone dry.

And the drought will intensify for most of California for the next three months.

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