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Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here.

  • These signs are common along Highway 5 in California’s Central Valley, especially where junior water-rights holders have land that won’t get water during droughts. Ironically, this one is placed right in front of a newly planted almond orchard.

    National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Why Has the Response to the California Drought Been so Weak?

    By Peter Gleick, President

    July 20, 2014

    In the past few weeks, I have had been asked the same question by reporters, friends, strangers, and even a colleague who posts regularly on this very ScienceBlogs site (the prolific and thoughtful Greg Laden): why, if the California drought is so bad, has the response been so tepid?

    There is no single answer to this question (and of course, it presumes (1) that the drought is bad; and (2) the response has been tepid). In many ways, the response is as complicated as California’s water system itself, with widely and wildly diverse sources of water, uses of water, prices and water rights, demands, institutions, and more. But here are some overlapping and relevant answers.

    First, is the drought actually very bad?

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    Over Twenty-Five Years Later, How Does the Drought in California Compare?

    By Amanda Pebler, Communications Intern

    July 20, 2014

    “Future droughts are likely to cause still more severe impacts to California’s environmental resources.” -1987

    “The drought is not over. Without doubt, another dry year would result in much more severe situation than California has experienced thus far.” -1991

    In the midst of the California drought and the hot summer months ahead, more data and public information are needed about what to expect and what are our options for action. The Pacific Institute works to give the public and policymakers the ability to access the latest data on the California drought and have been doing so for over 25 years. Recently, two past reports from the Pacific Institute regarding the California drought that occurred in the late 20th century have been released online. Even then, the drought warned that future impacts would be more severe than ever before. For those who have wondered how the current drought compares to those of the past, these are fantastic resources that give insight into previous drought conditions and how California responded.

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    A Tale of Two Farms: How Water Efficiency Could Help Drought-Proof California Farms

    By Heather Cooley, Director, Pacific Institute Water Program, and Claire O’Connor, Senior Attorney and Agricultural Water Policy Analyst, NRDC Water Program 

    June 10, 2014

    This article is cross-posted at the NRDC Switchboard.

    For many California farmers, this growing season has been the “worst of times”. While all of the state is in the midst of a severe drought, conditions are most acute in the state’s most productive agricultural region.

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    Urban Water Conservation and Efficiency – Enormous Potential, Close to Home

    By Matthew Heberger, Research Associate, Pacific Institute, and Ed Osan, Senior Policy Analyst, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

    June 10, 2014

    This post is cross-posted at the NRDC Switchboard.

    As California continues to face severe drought conditions, a new report released today by NRDC and the Pacific Institute tallies the huge potential to lower water use in virtually every community across the Golden State. Reducing water demand can help make our cities more resilient to future droughts, saves energy and reduces air pollution, and leaves more water in rivers and estuaries for fish, wildlife, and recreation. Compared with the water consumption levels of the last decade, urban water use can be cut by one-third to one-half using technologies and practices that are available today. We helped develop these estimates, and summarize the most significant of them here.

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    Huffington Post: Solving California’s Water Problems

    By Peter Gleick, President

    June 10, 2014

    For over 150 years, Californians have argued, litigated, yelled, and otherwise fought over water. California is a big state – we have redwood forests, desert regions, mountains, coasts, rich agricultural lands, amazing natural ecosystems. And overall, we have a pretty good amount of water.

    The problems with California’s water are that it is highly seasonal, highly variable, and poorly managed. Now, halfway through the second decade of the 21st century, we’ve hit the wall. California is in a drought – some call it the third year of a drought, but it could also be called the tenth dry year out of the last thirteen (see Figure 1). Even if next year brings some relief, our water problems will remain.

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    Huffington Post: The Untapped Savings in California’s Water Supply

    By Steve Fleischli, Senior Attorney & Water Program Director, NRDC

    June 10, 2014

    This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post on June 10, 2014.

    California is facing a historic drought. But a new report from NRDC and the Pacific Institute highlights a lot of ways we can help protect ourselves from water shortages while using water more wisely.

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  • Figure. Claims that environmental laws will destroy the economy have been regularly made and are consistently false. This graph shows U.S. GDP from 1929 to 2013 in real 2009 dollars (corrected for inflation) along with the years major environmental laws were passed. (Prepared by Peter Gleick, Pacific Institute. GDP data from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.)

    Huffington Post: Will New Climate Regulations Destroy the Economy? (Hint: No.)

    By Peter Gleick, President

    June 2, 2014

    No. On the contrary, they might just save it by helping stimulate new technologies and industries and by reducing the risks of climate disruption.

    There is a long history of claims that new rules to protect the environment or human health will seriously harm the United States economy. These claims are political fodder, they are provocative, and they are always wrong. In fact, the evidence shows the opposite: environmental regulations consistently produce enormous net benefits to the economy and to human health. In 2008, for example, the United States’ environmental technologies and services industry supported 1.7 million jobs. The industry at that time generated approximately $300 billion in revenues and exported goods and services worth $44 billion.

    Overall, a peer-reviewed 2011 study found that just the programs established by the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments were expected to yield direct benefits to the American people that vastly exceed costs of complying with the regulations. The study’s central benefits estimate in 2020 exceeded costs by a factor of more than 30-to-1.

    And these partial economic assessments ignore the health benefits of these rules. Health experts have estimated that the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, for example, for 2010 alone:

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    Huffington Post: Water and Conflict in Syria

    By Peter Gleick, President

    May 28, 2014

    Drought, Water and Agricultural Management, and Climatic Conditions as Factors in the Syrian Conflict

    Starting in 2006 and lasting through 2011, Syria suffered the worst long-term drought and the most severe set of crop failures in recorded history. In a new research paper, I’ve looked at the role of regional drought, unsustainable water management policies, and climatic conditions in contributing to the severe conflict in Syria in the past few years (see the peer-reviewed paper “Water, Drought, Climate Change, and Conflict in Syria” by Dr. Peter H. Gleick, coming out in the July issue — and here online — in the American Meteorological Society journal Weather, Climate, and SocietyA press release on this paper is now available, here). Many factors influenced the civil war in Syria, including long-standing political, religious, and ideological disputes; economic dislocations from both global and regional factors; and the consequences of water shortages influenced by drought, ineffective watershed management, and the growing influence of climate variability and change.

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    Huffington Post: The State of Our Water: World Water Day 2014

    By Peter Gleick, President

    March 21, 2014

    Welcome to World Water Day 2014. As I said last year, I think every day should be World Water Day, not just March 22nd, but hey, we take what we can get. Here are some thoughts that warrant repeating about water and important water news from the past year.

    • Those of us who are lucky enough to live in countries with high-quality tap water take it for granted. Go to your tap, draw a glass of water, and drink it. Then remember that nearly a billion people still do not have reliable access to safe, affordable tap water and cannot do what you’ve just done.
    • Stop taking your toilet for granted, too. Nearly 2.5 billion people (more people than lived on the planet in the 1930s) don’t have safe sanitation.
    • Do you know anyone who had cholera, or typhoid, or dysentery? Probably not. Yet just a few generations ago, some of your ancestors certainly died from one of these diseases. The bad news is that millions of people still die from these preventable diseases — associated directly with the lack of safe water and sanitation.
    • That food you’re eating or the clothes you’re wearing or the computer you’re sitting at to read this? It took a lot of water to produce them. That water is part of your water footprint. Here are some resources that discuss water footprints.
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    National Geographic ScienceBlog: Clarifying the Discussion about California Drought and Climate Change

    By Peter Gleick, President

    March 7, 2014

    In the last few months, as the severe California drought has garnered attention among scientists, policymakers, and media, there has been a growing debate about the links between the drought and climate change. The debate has been marked by considerable controversy, confusion, and opaqueness.

    The confusion stems from the failure of some scientists, bloggers, reporters, and others to distinguish among three separate questions. All three questions are scientifically interesting. But the three are different in their nuance, their importance to policy, and their interest to politicians and water managers. Here are the three different questions:

      1. Is the California drought caused by climate change?
      2. Is the California drought, no matter the cause, influenced or affected by climate changes already occurring?
      3. How will climate changes affect future drought risks in California?

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