California drought pits farmers vs. cities. But neither is the biggest water victim
An image taken September 22, 2009, from a NASA satellite of the city of Palm Springs, California, shows the parched, dry landscape. (Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
In early July, Californians woke up to widespread water shortages. Then, on July 3, in a watershed where there had been no rain in six years, it began pouring.
Two days later, a deluge.
And two days after that, the state was again on the edge.
The problem was that the Central Valley – the most populous region stretching from Sacramento to San Diego – had no water to spare.
According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, the region has about three years of water remaining in the Great Central Valley Project (GCVP), which is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Los Angeles County.
Yet the state is under a state of emergency, and Los Angeles has declared a state of emergency because of the drought, which has prompted a moratorium on city water usage.
But neither Los Angeles County nor the state has been able to pump enough water to keep the drought going long enough to avert a possible repeat of the 2009 crisis.
When water is scarce for most of the year, “we’re already overstressed by demand,” said Kevin Liles, an arid-land ecologist at the University of California, Davis.
The state has been under water restrictions since the beginning of the year, putting farmers and cities on a shortlist of major water users facing a water shortfall.
But until now, it has been California’s farmers and cities that have suffered the greatest loss of water over the summer: about 200,000 acres of wheat, 400,000 acres of almonds, 1.5 million acres of grapes and 10,000 acres of orange trees.
While farmers have been forced to cut back irrigation, cities have had to make do with less water.
But Los Angeles, which uses most of the state’s water, has been able to use its supplies to supply what was lacking elsewhere.
That wasn’t always the case. Until the mid-1990s, the region used an average of 500 gallons per person per day. Now, the average is 1