California is drying up and it’s happening faster than you think. The Los Angeles Times reports that January of this year was the driest on record since 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are also at an all-time low and according to NASA satellites, all of the water in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins—all of it—is 34 million acre-feet below normal. Reports indicated that, last year, California had approximately two years of water remaining, and the water depletion is right on schedule, as estimates now suggest that just one year of water is left in the coastal state.
Where has the water gone? Ask the farmers. Almost two-thirds of the groundwater has been pumped up by farmers to irrigate their crops. It’s really their only option, though, especially when their surface-water allocations have been cut by 80-100 percent. Even if their purpose is altruistic, it’s unsustainable. Wells are running dry and the ground is drying up—and sinking. In the Central Vallery, there are areas of land sinking by one foot or more per year.
There is no masking the drought’s devastation. California is running out of water. The writing has been on the wall for quite some time and no amount of “don’t water your lawn” signs are going to fix the problem. At this point, the only contingency plan seems to be praying for rain.
Yet, some still have hope that the problem can be rectified. In a piece for the Los Angeles Times, Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, proposes the following actions to save California from shriveling up.
First, Famiglietti’s plan calls for mandatory water rationing to be implemented across “all of the state’s water sectors” including municipal, residential, commercial and agricultural.
Secondly, the plan urges lawmakers to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Act of 2014 as soon as possible. “The law requires the formation of numerous, regional groundwater sustainability agencies by 2017,” explains Famiglietti in his article. “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.”
The last point in his plan is the creation of a task force of “thought leaders” who will brainstorm a solution for long-term water strategies.
Water stress is not new to Californians, but turning a blind eye to the issue will only make the problem worse. “Our state’s water management is complex,” Famiglietti writes, “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.”