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These Projects Can Solve the Water Crisis and Protect Farms

Despite seasonal rainfall at normal levels so far this year, the California Department of Water Resources on Dec. 1 announced an initial State Water Project allocation of 5% of requested supplies for 2023. Unless heavy rains or new policies change this decision, it will mark the third consecutive year that the State Water Project delivered only 5% to its customers.

This is an avoidable problem. By the end of December 2021, for example, only three months into the water year, two massive storm systems had already dumped more than 104 million acre-feet onto California’s watersheds. Almost none of it was captured by reservoirs or diverted into aquifers.

For nearly 40 years, the political consensus in California has been to cope with droughts by increasing conservation mandates. During that time, the state’s population has increased from 24 million to nearly 40 million, and farm production has increased in virtually every category. But due to conservation, agricultural water use has been constant, averaging about 34 million acre-feet per year.

Several factors are breaking this model despite a 40-year history of alleged success. Replacing flood irrigation with drip irrigation was a short-term solution. Flood irrigation in the fields downstream from the Sierra mimicked annual flooding prior to the construction of dams and levees—and replenished the aquifers.

Increased environmental requirements for less water diversion from rivers for agriculture have forced additional groundwater pumping at the same time as those aquifers were no longer being replenished by flood irrigation. As depleted aquifers collapse and percolation […] Read More