Water is an under-used weapon in the climate change fight

Water is an under-used weapon in the climate change fight


Water is an under-used weapon in the climate change fight. Unfortunately it is usually wasted, or at least poorly used. Unlike carbon emissions, which have other, more tangible uses, water is underutilized. In an effort to do something useful with water we are drilling ever deeper wells in our efforts to find water. Today, water-driven agriculture is producing large amounts of water-thirsty produce and corn. Between 2001 and 2008, farmers produced an additional 48 billion gallons of irrigation water annually to increase agricultural production, most of which was wasted, and now we are struggling to catch up with existing water-production needs. Another consequence of the development of groundwater is the increased water-pollution associated with droughts. I recently read a wonderful article that discussed the devastating impact that a drought can have on our water resources. Because we rely so heavily on freshwater aquifers, climate change can take years or even decades to fully impact the water supply. Currently, drought is causing some water resources to reach drought stress levels, and water-management agencies have to make the difficult decision of whether to open the dam gates to replenish groundwater supplies or let the water run out.

Due to the persistent drought, groundwater levels are likely to decline substantially in California over the next few years. The ability to properly replenish groundwater levels and sustain the water supply will depend on some clever engineering. Thanks to a little creativity, California may be able to properly sustain water-supply levels that will enable agricultural production and climate-adapted water-conservation strategies to continue in the face of climate change. The basic idea is that we can employ multiple ways to reverse the impacts of groundwater depletion: 1. reclaim more water from the wetland: 2. develop a new water-conservation strategy: 3. reduce water usage: 4. reduce our carbon-emissions footprint. I am certain that there is a range of innovative water-supply-management strategies, and even some creative changes to existing water-use strategies, that will enable us to do something useful with our increasingly limited freshwater resources.

I am hopeful that the recently released California Drought and Water Resources Master Plan will give us the directions and guidance we need to transition to a better way of managing our water resources. As the climate changes and droughts become more severe, we need to do more to make our water-resources management strategy more sustainable. Our current method of using groundwater to manage our water supply is a valuable resource, but it will only be useful if we are willing to adapt and learn more efficient ways to use it.

The risk of letting our water resources evaporate before able to properly manage them is enormous. Even when water is plentiful and safe to use, the failure to properly protect it through drought-management practices can be devastating for our agricultural and water-conservation efforts. As climate change brings more droughts, we will need to work harder to help the planet. This may mean that we need to reach for unconventional ways to conserve our precious resources. Thanks to the brave, courageous people who are working to protect our water-resources, we still have some time to develop the innovative solutions that will help us successfully transition to a more climate-adapted future.

Senior Librarian Kara Miller is working with an interdisciplinary group of scientists, groundwater experts, environmental planners, and water-quality specialists to advance water-conservation strategies in California and to reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions.

Water Resources Data Access

Here are some resources that will be helpful if you are interested in learning more about California groundwater.

Conservation Science Learning Team

Government agencies and organizations actively working to manage groundwater resources can be found at these offices and organizations. For example, the Division of Water Resources manages surface-water resources for many local agencies and communities and groundwater resources for the Central Valley and Southern California. The Bureau of Reclamation manages groundwater resources for other states and regions. The Division of Water Resources is responsible for groundwater management for the State Water Resources Board and local water agencies.

The Division of Water Resources has established a public website that is useful for learning about groundwater resources and how they are managed. The website contains information about groundwater resources for the entire state, but you can access a lot more specific information about water resources in specific regions at the division's regional websites. Below is a table of all the resources available. If you need information about your area, the link to that resource is highlighted. Some resources are available to the public, some to state agencies, and some to other organizations.

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