Irrigation ditch

An irrigation ditch on a farm near Marysville, in Yuba County. Photo: Bob White / Flickr .

Conflict over water resources defines California internationally as much as our Hollywood film stars and Silicon Valley tech wizards.

From the water wars that pitched residents of Los Angeles against Owens Valley farmers in the 1920s to the modern-day battles over the tunnels project in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, there has been a constant struggle over how to manage California’s precious and limited freshwater.

Up to now, the focus has been on how to manage surface water, but this is set to change as new legislation, approved in 2014, requires local water agencies to set rules to manage groundwater. Will this herald a new wave of water wars, this time taking the conflict underground?

If we continue with current approaches to managing water, this is certainly a distinct possibility. Already new blame games are opening up as the drought has led to high levels of groundwater extraction. Parts of the state, such as the San Joaquin Valley, are actually sinking as groundwater aquifers are rapidly depleted. The State Water Resources Control Board has declared that 21 of the state’s groundwater basins and sub-basins are “critically overdrafted.”

However an innovative experience in Yuba County suggests that it is possible to break out of the logjam of entrenched zero-sum game positions. Through a series of workshops held in Marysville between 2013 and 2014, scientists came together with farmers, environmentalists, urban water and flood managers to start to develop a common long-term regional water management plan.

Source: Sacramento Bee, US