California, as well as much of the rest of the West and Southwest, has had much lower than average rainfall for the past few years. However, the lack of rain is not California’s only, or even biggest, problem. One of the key issues that has led to such sever drought is mismanagement of water resources.
Here’s an analogy to illustrate this mismanagement. Imagine you make $3,000 per month and your expenses are $2,000 per month. You have $20,000 in savings. If you lost your income and made no changes to your spending, you could last 10 months on your savings. Now let’s say you got to month 7 and finally had a job again, but you were only making $1,000 per month. So now you’re making $1,000 per month, spending $2,000, and you have $8,000 left in the bank. More money is going out than is coming in, and your savings is going down. This is the sort of situation California is in.
As long as California is “spending” more water than is coming in (rain), where won’t be enough water to go around and its savings (reservoirs and aquifers) won’t have a chance to recharge. So, what can be done about it? Click here to learn more.
Not necessarily. A half-decade of torrential rains might bail California out of its crisis, but the larger West’s problems are more structural and systemic. “Killing the Colorado” has shown that people are entitled to more water from the Colorado than has flowed through it, on average, over the last 110 years. Meanwhile much of the water is lost, overused or wasted, stressing both the Colorado system, and trickling down to California, which depends on the Colorado for a big chunk of its own supply. Explosive urban growth matched with the steady planting of water-thirsty crops – which use the majority of the water – don’t help. Arcane laws actually encourage farmers to take even more water from the Colorado River and from California’s rivers than they actually need, and federal subsidies encourage farmers to plant some of the crops that use the most water. And, as ProPublica has reported, it seems that “the engineering that made settling the West possible may have reached the bounds of its potential”—meaning that even the big dams and canals we built to ferry all this water may now be causing more harm than good.