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California Dreamin’

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

Central Valley

California’s Central Valley

Governor Jerry Brown’s recent announcement of mandatory water reductions in cities and towns across California to reduce water usage by 25 percent has crystalized California’s and the Nation’s attention to the consequences of California’s continuing drought.  While predictions of this drought’s length vary and are debatable, there is no debate that this water crisis is real and demands attention.

While the Governor’s mandated water reductions do not go into effect until January 2016, the public is developing an acceptance of this reality with voluntary actions ranging from the elimination of grass at residential and commercial properties to “vigilantes” videotaping violators and posting clips on YouTube.

In terms of impact to the national economy, the far bigger issue involves what to do about agricultural use of water.  Many news reports paid significant attention to Gov. Brown’s decision to exempt agriculture from the mandated reductions. But this has to be viewed in a larger context: Much of California’s agricultural heartland in Central Valley already saw a severe reduction in federal irrigation water, due to actions by the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Agriculture uses 80% of California’s surface water and at least one estimate suggests that there is significant waste from irrigation leaks, overwatering, evaporation, crop types, and other factors.  Regardless, no serious reduction in water consumption in California will occur until attention is brought on the agricultural industry.

With California providing more than 50% of food supplies consumed in the United States – and that doesn’t even count the export market – reducing the agricultural sector’s water dependency will be a challenge.

Governor Brown’s mandate has brought about significant discussion of possible ways to reducing domestic water dependency.  That same attention now needs to focus on the agricultural sector to buy California time to establish a long-term plan to live with its pervasive drought.

Rob Vining Senior Advisor

A member of the Dawson team since 2012, Rob formerly served as the U.S. Army’s Chief of Civil Works Programs, Management Division.


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