CBS News recently focused on the impacts of groundwater pumping in California, but the causes were avoidable. Improving the reliability of surface water to avoid extracting groundwater from aquifers was a primary goal of California’s water projects. The reality is, California groundwater overdraft impacts were preventable.
We applaud 60 Minutes for discussing the important issue of groundwater depletion. However, the report missed a very important factor relative to California – the amount of water taken from food production to prop up failing environmental policies. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act over a million acre-feet of water per year that was once used to grow food now flows to the Pacific Ocean with no measurable environmental benefit. For some it has been a 20-year drought brought on by misguided environmental regulations. Failed government policies are having the effect of making farmers MORE dependent on groundwater rather than less. It’s not surprising that they’re pumping groundwater to stay in business. The same thing happened a century ago and it was the federal and State water projects that put a halt to groundwater overdraft by providing plentiful surface water supplies. Many farmers today no longer have the reliable water supplies that were once delivered by these projects. That will ultimately affect consumers with fewer choices and higher prices at the grocery store.
There might be a tradeoff if vulnerable fish species were recovering but they’re not. That’s because the real causes of fish death aren’t being addressed, such as overfishing, invasive species and undertreated wastewater discharges into California’s largest estuary, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Instead federal environmental water managers are treating the problem by dumping more and more water into a system that isn’t responding because it’s the wrong solution. Agricultural and urban water suppliers are required to complete efficient water management plans to assure that water is being used as efficiently as possible. It’s time that environmental water managers do the same.