In California, droughts are not unusual, and farmers are used to tapping groundwater reserves to get by. But Richard Howitt of the University of California-Davis, says surprisingly, there is little oversight.

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Howitt: “And so the natural and reasonable thing to do is to just pump as much as you can get. This means that we’re running down our reserves by an average of one point five million acre-feet per year.”

Howitt says that figure doubled this past year during California’s current extreme drought. If the trend continues, and wells run dry, the cost of the nation’s fruits and vegetables will rise.

The ongoing drought cannot be directly attributed to climate change, but it could be a harbinger of things to come, since scientists expect more severe droughts as the climate warms.

Howitt believes California must begin managing groundwater as a finite resource. As with coins in a piggy bank, they cannot repeatedly raid the stash without replenishing the reserves.

Howitt: “And so this means that you have to put the groundwater back in the wet years. And that’s the critical part.”

To address this problem, California recently passed legislation to begin regulating groundwater as a shared resource.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
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More Resources
National Climate Assessment: Agriculture
The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States (Southwest)
Assessing the Risk of Persistent Drought Using Climate Model Simulations and Paleoclimate Data
Drought impact study: California agriculture faces greatest water loss ever seen

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