California Water Shortage Culprits—Fracking and Agriculture—Escape State Conservation Measures

Thursday, April 09, 2015
Fracking operation in Inglewood, California (photo: Richard Vogel, AP)

California Governor Jerry Brown (D) announced mandatory water conservation measures last week but left out the two biggest water users in the drought-stricken state: farmers and frackers.


Brown’s order to cut water consumption by 25% over 2013 levels applied only to residential users. Those cuts will prove to be the proverbial drop in the bucket as 80% of the water in the state goes toward agricultural uses.


“It is striking that his executive order refines restrictions to the urban sector that consumes only 20 percent of California’s water and leaves the agricultural sector, which consumes 80 percent of the water, untouched at least for the moment,” Mark Hertsgaard, an environmental journalist and author who lives in San Francisco, told ABC News. “You can’t leave 80 percent of the problem off the table.”


Jonas Minton, a water policy adviser for the Planning and Conservation League and a former state water official, pointed out that some farmers in the state are “accelerating the planting of water-intensive crops, primarily for export.” One example is farmers in the Imperial Valley planting thirsty alfalfa for sale to China.


Brown defended his decision to exclude agriculture from his order, saying California farmers provide “most of the fruits and vegetables of America to significant parts of the world.” Farmers have argued that they have already suffered due to the drought. A UC Davis study reported that more than 400,000 acres of farmland were shut down due to lack of water for crops.


Aside from agriculture, environmentalists have also said the oil industry should be subject to water restrictions, given its use of hydraulic fracturing.


Fracking involves injecting large amounts of water and chemicals into the ground that can contaminate ground water. “It was shocking, especially in the midst of our drought,” Adam Scow, California director of Food and Water Watch, told ABC News. “The groundwater is our savings account for water in California and not only were we over-drafting it, but polluting it with toxic chemicals.” About 70 million gallons of water were used in California fracking operations in 2014.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

California’s Drought Plan Mostly Lays off Agriculture, Oil Industries (by Evan Simon, ABC News)

As California Faces Drought, Film Links Meat Industry to Water Scarcity & Climate Change (by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now)

Gov. Jerry Brown Defends Agriculture’s Water Use amid Drought (by David Siders, Sacramento Bee)

California used 70 Million Gallons of Water in Fracking in 2014 (by Rory Carroll, Reuters)

California Drought “Very Likely” Due to Climate Change; 14 Towns Soon to Run Out of Water (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Could California Drought be Ended by Stopping Alfalfa Exports to China? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

California Drought and Earthquakes Move Local Governments to Impose Fracking Restrictions (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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