Tapped Out: California’s Groundwater Drilling Laws Need a Splash in the Face

↑ California’s water crisis is a perfect (rainless) storm of greed, bad luck, and lousy planning. That’s the message that comes across loud and clear in “Race to the Bottom,” a September episode of Vice News hosted and produced by Nilo Tabrizy.

The 12-minute mini-documentary packs a lot in as Tabrizy visits with farmers, water experts, ag workers, and environmentalists, including Doug Obegi from NRDC (disclosure). Her guests paint a picture of an agricultural system gone wild, a mighty water-gorging industrial labyrinth driven by profit that’s doomed to die a parched, painful death if business continues as usual.

The facts speak for themselves. The agriculture industry consumes 80 percent of the state’s water, and now, with no longer much snowpack to count on, farmers are drilling thousands of new groundwater wells, sucking up billions of gallons of H2O from aquifers. Groundwater levels in the Central Valley are now more than 100 feet below previous historical lows, contributing to land subsidence where the elevation is collapsing at the astounding rate of two inches a month in some areas. It can’t—and won’t—last forever.

State officials aren’t completely oblivious to the problem. Last year, Governor Jerry Brown implemented the first-ever regulations to monitor and control groundwater extraction. There’s just one problem. The law doesn’t go into full effect until 2040! By then, many experts say, the Golden State’s groundwater supplies will be toast—gone for the foreseeable future—since it takes thousands of years for aquifers to recharge.

Yet hope has not run dry. Californians can conserve their most precious resource, the interviewees say, through recycling, stormwater-recapturing systems, efficient irrigation technologies, and by planting more drought-resistant vegetation for lawns and fewer water-guzzling crops, “There’s this myth of limitless water,” says NASA water expert Jay Famiglietti. “We have to dispel that myth and plan accordingly.”

This post first appeared at OnEarth.
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