Research from UC Davis suggests California farmers are mostly able to maintain production during the drought because of their use of underground water, but environmentalists, scientists and farmers agree the practice is not a long-term solution.
California farming will take a financial hit because of the drought. But for the most part, the UC Davis drought study says groundwater will supply what’s lacking in surface water. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute says pumping groundwater can’t continue to go unregulated.
“The truth is that it’s a good thing economically to be able to switch to groundwater when surface water is not available," says Gleick. "But it’s not an organized, controlled system. It benefits some farmers and other farmers are going to suffer because their groundwater is going to be extracted and some wells are going to go dry."
Paul Wenger of the California Farm Bureau says he agrees that using groundwater is like borrowing money from a bank – you have to pay it back. But he says securing future water supplies requires more storage and a recognition that farmers have a role in replenishing groundwater.
“We can only conserve our way so far, it’s time that we really start having a serious dialogue about improving our water infrastructure in California, not only our surface waters, but also our groundwater," says Wenger.
The farm bureau is opposed to state bills that would require more comprehensive regulation of groundwater – it says good policy decisions are not made in times of crisis.