Water, and the lack of it, has been the central environmental issue in the west for decades now, and the tension between farmers and cities over water rights seems to grow with every year. And this hasn’t been a good year: California’s so low on water that the state recently announced it was reviving a dormant program that allows parched state agencies to buy water rights from farmers in the agricultural valleys, many of whom own long-standing and significant water claims.
A new report on California and water use, written by the nonprofit Pacific Institute, may heighten tensions over agricultural water use. It concludes that instead of building dams and reservoirs, the state needs to encourage farmers to grow only water-efficient crops and invest in more precise watering systems. Of course, that advice won’t sit well with farmers, especially when they’re receiving subsidies to grow water-thirsty crops like cotton and alfalfa. Nevertheless, the situation’s depressingly simple: There’s not enough water. So something’s going to have to change. As the Pacific Institute’s director writes, “Not only can we do more with less; we must do more with less.”