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According to a new paper, Nature Climate Change by NASA water scientist James Famiglietti the California water shortage is severe and likely getting worse:
“California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins have lost roughly 15 cubic kilometers of total water per year since 2011,” he writes. That’s “more water than all 38 million Californians use for domestic and municipal supplies annually—over half of which is due to groundwater pumping in the Central Valley.”
Famiglietti collected this data from satellites to measures how much water people are pumping from aquifers around the globe.
He writes that more than 2 Billion people rely on the worlds aquifers as their primary source of water. It is also the source for at least half the irrigation water that we use to grow food.
When a drought such as what has caused the California water shortage hits, farmers need to rely on groundwater even more than usual. because less rain and snow means less water flowing above ground.
The conclusions that Famiglietti draws from the satellite data is pretty alarming:
“Groundwater is being pumped at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished, so that many of the largest aquifers on most continents are being mined, their precious contents never to be returned.”
California Water Shortage
The Central Valley of California has one of the worlds fastest-depleting aquifers—but it still isn’t the fastest depleting overall and there is another aquifer called Ogallala that is located in the northern high plains of the United States that is emptying almost as fast.
Nearly all of the aquifers are located under the worlds greatest agricultural areas and that water is responsible for those areas having high productivity.
The fact that these aquifers are responsible for much of the food grown around the globe should be alarming since their loss could cause food shortages.
Yet there is almost no regulation on how water pumped from aquifers can be used or how much can be pumped.
Even though there is very little thought or research about the water drawn from these aquifers we know that we are pumping the water out faster than it can be replaced by nature.
If this trend continues he adds that:
“groundwater supplies in some major aquifers will be depleted in a matter of decades.”
California Water Shortage Problems
The more that is pumped the worse the problem becomes. As a aquifers water level drops wells have to go deeper to get to the water and that increases the costs.
This is already happening in the California water shortage as some low income residents that are unable to afford the costs of a deeper well are seeing their wells run dry.
When the wells go deeper there is also another problem that happens.
As the aquifers water tables drop the amount of salts that are found in the water increases, sometime to the point where the water need to be treated before it can be used.
This situation is already playing out in California’s Central Valley, where some people that rely on wells are starting to see shortages and tainted water.
How the California Water Shortage Could Affect You
These problems affect all of us no matter where we live. Shortages of water in California could quickly translate into rising prices for the fruits and vegetables that are grown there.
This California water shortage could quickly cause a shortage of these items that would affect every person in our country.
The only solution when a growing population requires more water and the global warming could lead to more droughts is to treat water as the valuable resource that it is.
We need to find ways to stop wasting it and make sure that we are using it wisely.
Is The California Water Shortage A Real Crisis
Although the above article also points out that the above ground reservoirs have only about 1 year of water left in them before they run dry leaving only the rapidly depleting ground water in aquifers it may not be as bad as it seems.
When you look at the actual numbers it turns out that most of California wastes a huge amount of water.
On average, the people in San Diego County for example, use over 150 gallons of water per day. Compare this to Sydney, Australia which has a similar climate but uses less than half that amount.
But even if residents of California want to use water to have green lawns and pools in an arid climate, they use only a portion of the water used in the state.
The states agricultural industry uses 80% of the water and they are also one of the largest wasters of this resource.
Many farmers regularly flood the land to grow water thirsty crops like rice and alfalfa. As recently as 2010 still had 43% of agricultural irrigation using a gravity method which is hugely wasteful but the least expensive way to water crops.
Conclusion To California Water Shortage
The bottom line is that this problem exists because water has been a cheap resource that we have wasted for years, and now it’s time to pay for it.
There are vastly more efficient ways to water crops in California that would dramatically decrease the water used by farmers.
But this California water shortage is not as apocalyptic as it would seem at first glance. We need to start conserving and protecting this important resource or the consequences could be severe.
Although California isn’t the only one facing this problem it could be one of the first to start to solve it.
The truth is that California has plenty of water…though maybe not enough to satisfy our wasteful use of this precious resource that we are doing today.
To make sure that this water shortage doesn’t become a larger problem we need to change how we use this resource and think of where we could be in the future if we don’t.