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More sobering news in the California water wars

Compelling video, Meg.  Those of us on this side of the Atlantic are feeling a bit down about the news reports from Copenhagen.  But things are not much cheerier here at home.

The bad news about California’s fresh water delivery system just got worse.  A new NASA report on groundwater overdraft in the Central Valley concludes that since 2003, the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins have lost more than 30 cubic kilometers of water, much of it due to groundwater pumping.  NASA describes a cubic kilometer as the equivalent of 400,000 Olympic-size pools.  Times 30.  That’s a lot of lost water.

The NASA report comes on the heels of the 2009 California Climate Adaptation Strategy issued two weeks ago.  The climate report concludes, not surprisingly, that California will be forced to fundamentally alter its fresh water use and management practices in the face of climate change-induced impacts on the water delivery system.  The severely depleted status of our primary groundwater basins in the Central Valley makes that conclusion all the more daunting.

Regrettably, it appears that California’s recently inked “historic” $11 billion water deal missed an historic opportunity to address this part of the water supply problem.  The water package has minor provisions for groundwater monitoring by local agencies, but the locals are the ones who stood by and watched as the aquifers were drawn down in the first place.  It’s hard to believe we will see a whole lot of good information or better management from these quarters, at least without a whole lot more prodding.

We need to figure out how to manage the use — and overuse — of this largely unregulated shared resource.  And if the NASA report is right, we need to do it fast.

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