Are we really ‘running dry?’

I’ve seen a lot of headlines about California “running dry.” While the drought is deadly serious, I thought it might be time to dust off the PPIC’s 2009 report, “California Water Myths.”

Myth 1, right out of the gate: “California is running out of water.”

Not the case, PPIC tells us. California has had droughts before, and Californians have adapted. This is an arid place, after all. Droughts should surprise us no more than earthquakes.

The problem with the “running out of water” spin, the PPIC says, is it implies that there is no way to be more efficient with the water we’ve already got.

“If we are ‘running out of water,’ we have to ‘get more.’” the PPIC reports. “The assumption underlying this myth is that California’s water use and management are more or less fixed. So new water demands from population growth can be addressed only be developing additional supplies, whatever the cost.”

But look at what’s already happened in the state. Farm yields per acre have increased, even though total farm water use has declined.

How is that possible? Farmers adapted. They put in drip irrigation. As for urbanites, total urban water use has remained relatively flat, despite tens of millions more people.

We’ve adapted in the past. We’ll run out of water, PPIC says, only if we fail to adapt in the future.

John Fleck this weekend suggested we should all take a deep breath. California can get through this, he says.

A little optimism, and context, can be as refreshing as a little rain.


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  • Blog Author

    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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