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Explainer: Where does California water really go?



Record low rainfall and lack of snow have made this the driest year in California’s recorded history. Some scientists say it’s the driest in half a millennium. It’s enough to cause Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency. Governor Brown has asked all Californians to start using 20 percent less water. We’re not to the stage of rationing, yet - that last happened in San Francisco more than two decades ago, in 1992.

If you combine residential uses with how we use water in our workplaces, our buildings, pools, schools: all that comes together to use up almost 22 percent of the state’s water. By far the thirstiest group in California is the state’s farmers and the crops they grow: nearly 75% of California’s water is used for agriculture. The vast majority of that water goes to the Central Valley. There’s a good reason, too: it’s the largest expanse of Class 1 soil in the entire world – that means it’s the biggest and best ground for growing crops. Two percent of our water goes to aquaculture. And a very, very small amount of water – less than one percent – is for livestock, mining and hydropower.

The “State Water Project” is a massive system of dams and canals that move water across the state, from northern reservoirs to Southern California through the Delta. That water is used for people living in cities and people working the land. But after three years of drought, officials have decided to stop delivering water for the first time – ever. Farmers are going to have to plant less because there just won’t be enough water to irrigate all the fields. It won't be so easy for a lot of communities to get their water locally - it actually looks like 17 towns may be out of drinking water by the end of March. Those include Cloverdale and Healdsburg up in Sonoma County.

California requires a certain amount of water be kept in rivers and in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But this year, since the state is keeping that water in place, it could really negatively affect the fish populations.