California drought pits farmers vs. cities. But neither is the biggest water victim.
By David Loyn
The drought has been a long time coming. We’re not talking a year. Maybe a decade. And this drought has been particularly brutal for farmers across California. Since 2002, when the El Niño weather phenomenon hit, the state has endured a five-year-long drought. The drought has taken a particularly heavy toll on the agricultural industry, as farmers struggle to keep their operations going while also fighting to provide water for their growing communities.
In the cities, water has become one of the most valuable commodities. Cities have battled with each other over water rights and taxes. And the state has fought with a federal agency to secure access to the water that flows under the ocean.
According to a recent report from The Pew Research Centre, 36 percent of the California population—nearly 12 million people—live in either low- or middle-income households, and about one-third of those live in rural areas. As a result, a lot of the costs and pressure that farmers face come at them from their cities.
A drought of this magnitude, however, presents a different set of challenges for farmers and cities. The state of California is currently in the midst of a budget crisis. The state has already tapped into its rainy-season reserves. The rainy-season reserves are a set of funds held behind the state’s rainy-season reservoirs. In California, if we don’t get a full month of rain, about 90 percent of our reservoirs will start to fill and we’ll have to release water. The state’s rainy-season reserves total an estimated $2.2 billion, or about $6.9 billion if they don’t go into the state treasury.
The reason the state tapped into its rainy-season reserves in the first place is a concern. The rainy-season reserve has been a tool used