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In Depth: Who’s Using Water During California’s Drought?

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Workers drill for water for a farmer on February 6, 2014 near Bakersfield, California. Now in its third straight year of unprecedented drought, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years and possible the worst in the past 500 years. Grasslands that support cattle have dried up, forcing ranchers to feed them expensive supplemental hay to keep them from starving or to sell at least some of their herds, and farmers are struggling with diminishing crop water and whether to plant or to tear out permanent crops which use water year-round like almond trees. About 17 rural communities could run out of drinking water within several weeks and politicians are pushing to undo laws that protect several endangered species. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Workers drill for water for a farmer on February 6, 2014 near Bakersfield. (David McNew/Getty Images)

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS)— The current drought is covering all of California in extreme ways. It’s the third driest year in 106 years of record keeping according to Jay Lund of the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

Lund stressed that the demand for environmental, agricultural and urban water use have never come at a greater time. At the recent UC Drought Summit in Sacramento, the general consensus was that we cannot treat this historic drought as a one-off event since there are sure to be more.

The water year runs from October 1st through the end of September in order to keep the wettest months in the same part of a year, Lund explained. “This is the third year of dry years, but it’s the deepest of the three,” he said.

Statistically the state is likely to expect another dry year next year. “If you’re in a very dry year this year, then the probability that next year will be very dry is almost 30 percent.”

Lund looks at the drought somewhat optimistically and as a good reminder. “Droughts are very useful to remind Californians that we live in a very dry part of the world.” But even so, we still need to pay attention to the conditions and adapt accordingly.

It goes beyond simply doing things like building storage, using aquifers, conserving and re-using wastewater. “You do all of those and you try to do them in ways that fit well together,” he said.

But do everyday people get it? Are legislators acting enough on dealing with the drought? With agricultural use accounting for about 80 percent of water consumption and urban use at 20; what will precipitate change in how we use water?

The Bay Area was hit hard in the 1976-77 drought. Lund said we found out that we can conserve up to 40 to 50 percent under draconian conditions.

“About half of all the urban use is for outdoor water uses; mostly, overwhelmingly landscape uses, keeping lawns and trees green.”

Lund notes that California’s water conveyance system for transporting up and down the state is a strong and resilient infrastructure, perhaps more so than anywhere else on Earth.

One strategy mentioned is to not overuse groundwater in wet years so that it can accumulate in times like these.

For more on how the drought is affecting the state’s farmers and the practicality of using recycled water in the future listen to the full IN DEPTH audio segment:

In Depth: Who’s Using Water During California’s Drought?

kcbs mic blue In Depth: Who’s Using Water During California’s Drought?
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