Magazine article Newsweek

California's Farms Would Only Need to Cut Water by 6.6 Percent to Match Urban Restrictions; California May Need to Ration Water for Farmers, Too

Magazine article Newsweek

California's Farms Would Only Need to Cut Water by 6.6 Percent to Match Urban Restrictions; California May Need to Ration Water for Farmers, Too

Article excerpt

Byline: Zoe Schlanger

Faced with the worst drought in its history, California has told towns, businesses and private citizens to replace their lawns with plants that aren't so thirsty and make other changes to reduce water usage by 25 percent. That could save around 500 billion gallons of water a year, which is impressive. But critics say it's not enough.

Why, when the state's stored reservoir water supply is at risk of drying up within a year, is Governor Jerry Brown focusing only on ornamental landscaping? Agriculture uses nearly four times as much water as urban consumers. Towns and cities in California use around 9.1 million acre-feet of water per year (nearly 3 trillion gallons), while agriculture uses 34.6 million acre-feet per year. In the Central Valley, desperate farmers are pumping greater and greater quantities of water from dwindling aquifers. The land in some places is subsiding by 1 foot per year--sinking into the emptying water table.

While it's hard to argue that highway medians and golf courses need all that green grass, it seems odd to ignore farming entirely when seeking to conserve water.

Towns and cities have been ordered to replace 50 million square feet of lawns with landscaping that doesn't require constant watering, and golf courses, campuses and other highly irrigated ornamental landscapes will be required to significantly cut their water use. If the state focused its mandatory water cuts on agriculture industry, farms would need to reduce their use by just 6. …

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