California Holds Potential to Thwart Water Deficit, Report Says

Jun 10, 2014 4:41 pm ET

June 10 (Bloomberg) -- Drought-stricken California has more than twice the water capacity needed to erase an annual deficit of more than 6 million acre-feet, through better conservation and management efforts, according to the Pacific Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Almost half of the potential 13.7 million acre-feet in savings could come from agricultural efficiency gains and conservation, with the balance from urban improvements, water reuse and captured storm water, the two groups said in a joint report today. One acre-foot is enough to cover an acre with a foot of water, approximately 326,000 gallons (1.2 million liters).

The largest U.S. agricultural-producing state, which is experiencing record drought, can achieve some water savings through improved irrigation on farms and replacing leaky plumbing or installing more efficient appliances in homes. Other conservation efforts may require policy changes, Peter Gleick, president and co-founder of the Oakland, California-based Pacific Institute, said today.

“That’s a conversation we need to have, and that’s the next step,” Gleick, a co-author of the study, said on a conference call with reporters. “That’s an opportunity the drought offers us. Doing nothing in the face of our water problems is no longer an option.”

The report didn’t include details on how much the changes would cost because “the costs will vary from region to region and need to be assessed on that basis,” Kate Poole, an NRDC water attorney and co-author of the report, said on the call.

“We’ve hit the wall in California -- we’re past the point of peak water,” Gleick said. “Even in a normal year or a wet year we’re overextended. We take too much water out of the system.”