California drought pits farmers vs. cities. But neither is the biggest water victim.
The California drought
The state is locked in a civil war over water. The state’s farmers have taken the most direct hit. The biggest losses have been in the Central Valley.
The farmers, like the entire agriculture industry, depend on rainfall. After years of drought, the state is beginning to tap into its underground reserves and bring a little water back to irrigate crops.
The state’s farmers and cities are the biggest land users in California. They are also the state’s biggest water users.
“Agriculture is one of the greatest water users in California,” said Tim Gauti, director of the California Water Institute, a nonpartisan California government research group. “It represents about 40 percent of water use in California.”
Farmers, in particular, are a critical water user. When the state’s last-minute water purchases from the federal government ran out in February, farmers, who buy water through the state’s underground storage system, were among the first to cut water use.
“I feel for the farmers in the Central Valley,” said Steve Williams, vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. “The farmers here are the engine that propels the state economy.”
The other major water users are the cities, which often have long-term water contracts with farmers.
Last year, it took a lot of water for San Bernardino to buy water from farmers in Bakersfield.
And last year, San Bernardino County spent more than $1 billion on water buys to irrigate crops. The city doesn’t have its own water supply. Now San Bernardino’s water is running out, too.
“Farmers’ water use has been reduced by a couple of percentage points,” Williams said. “But that’s not enough to begin to address the long-term water needs that we have.”
The big water users: The farmers and cities
California has been a water-hungry place since the mid-1800s, when