Pacific Institute Insights

National Geographic ScienceBlogs: Learning from Drought: Five Priorities for California

By Peter Gleick

February 10, 2014

Droughts – especially severe droughts – are terribly damaging events. The human and ecosystem costs can be enormous, as we may relearn during the current California drought.

But they are also opportunities – a chance to put in place new, innovative water policies that are not discussed or implemented during wet or normal years.

In the hopes that California’s warring water warriors open their minds to policy reform, here are some of the issues that should be on the table now, in what could be the worst drought in California’s modern history. But here is what I fear, said best by John Steinbeck in East of Eden:

 “And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”


Here are five top priorities (more will be presented in later posts):

  1. Put in place comprehensive groundwater management. This includes monitoring and reporting of all groundwater withdrawals, integrated surface and groundwater management, pricing of groundwater withdrawals, increased wet-season groundwater recharge, and restrictions on groundwater pumping, on average, to the limit of sustainable yield…Continue reading.

2 Responses

  1. John Farinelli says:

    I have been involved in the California Ag industry for nearly 40 years. As a farmer, as well as being involved in the irrigation industry. I recently sold my drip irrigation design and installation business to devote time to designing a intelligent irrigation management system. Last Tuesday I balanced the pressures in a vineyard drip system I had installed a few years back. It took two hours of runtime to discover several leaking or broken pressure control valves. The farmer had to pay for two hours of energy running a 150HP deep well pump, but nothing for the wasted 78,000 gallons of water pumped. I am hopeful that as wells dry up this summer and farmers panic, the state will finally protect the aquifer. Is it reasonable to believe this will happen?

  2. Peter Gleick says:

    Thank you for the comment: yes, your example supports the argument that even with the progress we’ve made, more remains to be done to put in place (and then maintain) better water-use technologies and approaches. As for your question, I just don’t know the answer. If the drought worsens and continues, I hope there can be a good discussion about sustainable groundwater management.

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