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Understanding the basics of water use in California

In our last post, we discussed the governor’s recent action aimed at regulating California’s water supply due to the state’s ongoing drought. Water is a uniquely precious resource to Californians due to the state’s geography and its significant agricultural presence. In order to better understand California’s water-related priorities, it is important to evaluate the ways in which water is used in The Golden State.

According to state officials, agriculture uses approximately 80 percent of the water supply used by humans on an annual basis. Rivers, managed wetlands and other environmental purposes also take up a significant share of the water available for use. It is worth noting that a substantial disagreement exists in regards to how much of the actual water supply is funneled to agriculture, other human needs and environmental purposes.

According to an expert employed by the UC Davis’ Center for Watershed Sciences, wild and scenic rivers are too impractically inaccessible to be considered “available” for human use or other environmental purposes. Therefore, his calculations insist that environmental purposes receive 22 percent of available water, agriculture takes 62 percent and other human and urban needs receive the remaining 16 percent.

By contrast, The Public Policy Institute of California does include wild and scenic rivers in its calculus. This breakdown amounts to a 50 percent allocation to environmental purposes, a 10 percent allocation to human and other urban needs and finally a 40 percent allocation to the agricultural industry.

Whether you agree with one calculus or the other, it is clear that non-agricultural human water use is far less substantial than environmental and agricultural water uses are.

Source: KPCC, “Drought: 10 things to know about California water use,” Molly Peterson, April 15, 2015

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