As drought drives prices higher, millions of Californians struggle to pay for water, and they keep leaving behind dead cows, animals with broken legs, and a broken economy, one that was already in deep decline before the drought struck.
California is one of the nation’s most populous and arid, but when water becomes expensive, residents go to any lengths to continue irrigating and watering their lawns, and they put more water on the market.
“We already have too much water,” said Eric Koehler, an economics professor at the University of California, Riverside. “We keep letting the price tags get bigger and bigger.”
At the same time, Koehler said, California’s water managers face tough challenges. “There is a lot of water, and we have got to find a way to get that water to places where it is needed most.” However, he added, that doesn’t mean California can’t play a role in meeting global climate change.
“There is a real shortage of water. We all understand that, but we also have an obligation to move it quickly,” Koehler said. “I would be extremely happy if we had a real crisis, where a lot of the population really got together and said, ‘There is really no more water in our region. Let’s take a look at our water use and figure out how many gallons we are using each day and where, and then we will find our own solution.’”
The problem is that California often does not take a long-term view. Instead, it focuses on the drought next month and on the next drought, rather than on how water scarcity is playing out on a human scale.
In 2015, about 20 million people in California used more than 140 million gallons of water per person. That usage is the most water ever, and it represents a 35 percent increase from four years earlier, according to the U.S. Interior Department.
The Department of Agriculture’s most recent statewide water use survey shows that usage increased by 1.5% from 2014 to 2015, due largely to the two years of statewide water restrictions, but the