Heading into the fourth summer of drought, water agencies are looking for ways to get Californians to conserve at home. Tear out lawns. Install low-flow toilets. Irrigate with gray water. But what should the whole state be doing? Opinion asked nine water experts what needs to change about how California handles its water.
Confront the price tag
What California doesn’t know about its own water use is staggering and scandalous.
The state has no precise idea how much water is diverted from rivers by farmers. It knows even less about how much groundwater pumping is going on. California has promised five times as much water as exists — and officials show no interest in reconciling “paper” water with reality.
California’s persistent drought
Just as important, we know nothing of water’s total price tag.
Although every H2O molecule is identical, volumes of water aren’t
delivered at equal cost. To pump it from the ground and over
mountains to distribute it takes enormous amounts of energy.
Subsidies make this all artificially cheap: Taxpayers pay for the dams, aqueducts, electricity and interest.
We need an honest metric for water’s true cost so that Californians can judge whether investing in local conservation is a better deal than pumping water hundreds of miles, or whether allocating 80% of our water to agriculture, which makes up just 2% of our economy, still makes sense.
Wade Graham is an adjunct professor at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, a trustee of the Glen Canyon Institute, and an advisor to C-Win.org.