Prepare for Drought

California is on the front lines of our changing water future, already experiencing more intense and more frequent water shortages. In recent years, the state has suffered the worst drought in 1,200 years, with record-low snowpack, river runoff, reservoir levels, and soil moisture. This leaves far less water for cities, farms, and ecosystems in a state that struggles, even during a good year, with heated disputes over water allocation, management, and use.

Drought in South Lake reservoir, California Tom Grundy/Alamy

The state currently relies on massive reservoirs and conveyance systems to store and divert surface water, along with groundwater drilling, but this will not allow its citizens to adequately address water conflicts and shortages. The few remaining options for surface reservoirs provide only a modest supply of water to few users at an enormous cost to taxpayers. Meanwhile, California’s aquifers are overdrafted to the point of causing massive land subsidence that destabilizes local infrastructure.

In order to adequately address the unprecedented water resource management challenges in the state, we need to work cooperatively and aggressively to implement 21st-century solutions. California’s response to the drought can provide a model for other regions, just as its exemplary commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions has.

NRDC develops and advocates for drought-response strategies that provide near-term relief and achieve a more resilient and sustainable water supply in the future. We have conducted extensive research and authored several reports that highlight opportunities for cost-effective and technically feasible strategies—such as urban and agricultural water conservation and efficiency, water reuse and recycling, and stormwater capture. Adopting these solutions would provide 10.8 million to 13.7 million acre-feet more water each year in new supplies and reduced demand. That’s enough to meet the needs of all of California’s cities.

In addition to advancing technical solutions, we advocate for policy reform at the local, state, and federal levels. Our legal team works to reform water contracts to encourage water conservation and bring surface water diversions in line with ecosystem protection. In California and at the national level, we hold elected and agency officials accountable for upholding the Endangered Species Act and other laws designed to protect water quality and ensure sufficient instream flows. We also collaborate with local partners and urban water agencies to implement integrated water management to better prepare communities for our changing water future.

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