Fixing California – Part Three, Achieving Water Abundance

As Californians face another drought, the official consensus response is more rationing. Buy washers that don’t work very well. Install more flow restrictors. Move down from a 50 gallon per person, per day limit for indoor water consumption to 40 gallons per person per day. For California’s farmers, recent legislation has not only lowered what percentage of river flow can be diverted to agriculture, but now also restricts groundwater pumping. The impact is regressive, with consequences ranging from petty and punitive to catastrophic and existential.

Wealthy homeowners pay the fines and water their lawns, while ordinary citizens are forced to obsess over every drop. Corporate farm operations navigate the countless regulatory agencies while family farmers are driven insolvent. And the worse it gets, the more the story stays the same: We have wasted water, destroyed ecosystems, and now we must embrace an era of limits. But this is a perilous path.

Maybe the consensus model of water management in California works for corporations that want to consolidate the agricultural industry. Maybe it benefits developers who want to build apartments with no yards, where the interiors are equipped with “water sipping” (lousy) appliances. Maybe the public utilities prefer a model where they don’t have to build new infrastructure because per capita consumption is driven down. Maybe the “smart growth” advocates for “infill” love the idea they can sell high density more easily because if everyone uses half as much water, twice as many households can […] Read More