L.A. is conserving water at record levels, but it’s not enough as drought worsens.
In California, the problem has been that the state is over-perfused with groundwater. The result has been that when rain comes, it doesn’t bring as much with it as it should. It means that less rainfall ends up in the reservoirs, the majority of which sit atop the ground and take up only a small percentage of the state’s surface.
California has pumped up to 1.7 billion barrels of groundwater since the 1950s for agricultural and municipal needs. This is equivalent to some 10,000 Olympic-size swimming pools full of water. According to the state Department of Water Resources, the state could get 2,500 more feet of rain, while holding its reservoir at the current 75 percent capacity, if only every drop of water it used was returned to the aquifer system. But it’s not like that.
“In terms of water supply, most of California’s storage area is sitting on top of the ground,” said Bob Wawro, senior water resources specialist with the Environmental Defense Center, an environmental organization in Oakland.
It doesn’t take much to drain any rain that falls in California, which is the world’s sixth-longest-running state. As a result, every drop of water in the state’s aquifers is a drop that isn’t getting back to the surface or back out over the aquifer, where it can do its work.
“It’s basically a gigantic leak in California’s water situation,” Wawro said.
With more rain likely to come, some analysts say, California could need more water, and there’s a reason why a recent report from the state’s Bureau of Water Resources concludes that California could run out of water by around 2022.
“The thing is, I don’t think there’s any doubt that California is running out of water,” said Gary Cook, vice president of water policies for the Center for Food Safety, a group that advocates for environmental regulation and consumer interests.
California’s water situation is a complicated one — if not a completely muddled one.