The state’s water problems date to the California Gold Rush, when projects first began moving water from abundant sources in wetter areas to drier places where it was needed, Jones said. Regulation historically lagged behind development.
Although groundwater aquifers have supplied 60% of California’s water needs, statewide regulations were not in place until 2014. Overuse of the aquifers causes compaction, which prevents them from being able to refill during rainstorms, Jones said.
The ecological impact of moving water resources also was largely ignored until the 21st century, she said. Warmer temperatures have amplified the effects of drought, making it much harder for wildlife to survive when water sources they rely on are diminished or dry up.
Less snowmelt runoff is leading to ecological disaster, Jones warned. It’s probably too late to rescue migratory fish such as salmon, which depend on cold water from melting snow to migrate upriver, she said. The problem is compounded by the state’s catastrophic wildfires, which also reduce runoff by damaging existing waterways and infrastructure.
Californians do have recourse, she said. But it means taking action against anticipated water shortages as soon as possible. Residents will need to be resilient and adapt to a world where drought is a normal condition, not a temporary “drought emergency,” she said.