“With its diverse climate and landscape, California contains the greatest variety of rivers found anywhere in the United States. Over the last 150 years these rivers have been dammed, diverted, polluted, lined, and leveed to supply the needs of an expanding population and economy. In spite of these changes, rivers and the waters they carry remain one of California’s most significant natural hazards and most contested resources”. (Mount)
California – the most populous state in the United States – faces many competing demands for water use, mirroring what is happening throughout the world, as nations try to come to terms with an impending international water crisis. In California, agricultural demand for irrigation during the dry summer has traditionally been met by reservoirs and a system of irrigation canals that have in turn lowered the amount of water available for river flow. The practice of water control and diversion has resulted in endangered fisheries, reduced salmon runs, and pitched battles between interest groups –particularly, farmers, fishermen, developers and environmentalists. California is often subject to years of drought, when it does not receive enough winter precipitation to replenish reservoirs and groundwater, compounding its water troubles. Ironically, California is also susceptible to damaging floods during wet years, causing billions of dollars in property damage. Many new subdivisions are being built on floodplains, and depend on antiquated levees to protect lives and property. After bearing witness to the effects of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and faced with the possibility of a similar disaster, California voters recently approved a bond measure that would repair the levees, in order to protect homes and lives. As California begins to face the reality of future water scarcity, many local conservation efforts have been implemented, and water districts are giving rebates on water efficient appliances, and distributing water-saving devices that will make it easier for customers to become more water efficient. Although California is making some progress towards meeting its water challenges, the growing population’s demand for water will continue to rise, creating a situation where high stakes battles over water will be an inevitable consequence unless the state is able to formulate an overarching science-based water plan, and implement it despite the political risks inherent in alienating special interest groups.