After a relatively wet winter, California, suspended the statewide 25 reductions in urban water use last week with a sharp change in policy. El Niño storms fell short in Southern California; however, it partly filled the reservoirs and snowpacks in the northern part of the state. The removal of regulations might give us a false sense of security, but the water crisis is far from over. In the western United States, nonrenewable groundwater has been pumped at unsustainable rates, emptying our hidden reservoirs.
Around the world, groundwater supplies half of our needs. These underground reservoirs are only visible when they flow from springs and wells. California’s five-year long drought depleted snow packs, rivers, and lakes. According to a report from Stanford University, the state relied on groundwater to meet 60 percent of the state’s water needs to compensate for the shrinking water supplies.
Some shallow aquifers recharge from surface water, but during the drought, the depth at which water is found drops below the surface, and water cannot easily recharge with rainfall and streamflow. In fact, some of these deeper aquifers contain water sealed up by geological changes millions of years ago. Once these “fossil” aquifers are gone, they are gone forever. And as they are depleted, potential environmental changes, including the sinking of the land, begin to scale up.
California’s well-drilling records, unlike other western states, are kept secret from the public, and there is no statewide policy limiting groundwater use. Property owners can consume as much water as they want from the underground they own. Even if Legislators regulate and limit groundwater use, the compliance plans wouldn’t be required until 2020 and the full restrictions wouldn’t come through until 2040.
It is a fact that Californians need to change their relationship with their declining water supplies, including managing and conserving groundwater reservoirs. Confidence might be restored with the new regulations, but there is still an imminent need to adapt to more arid times.
The implementation of policies and water efficient technologies— such as Falcon’s waterfree urinals and hybrid are crucial to support our sustainability efforts.