Stop Blaming the Drought on a Lack of Rain

Why California’s water shortage isn’t simply a supply problem.

The dry bed of the Almaden Reservoir in San Jose, California, in February 2014Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


We tend to think of drought as a supply problem. When it doesn’t rain in California—now in its fifth year of drought—there’s not enough water to go around. That mentality has spurred many to consider desalinating water from the Pacific Ocean as the state’s next water source.

On this week’s episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, Judith Schwartz, author of Water in Plain Sight, offers a more optimistic perspective. She tells co-host Indre Viskontas that better storage and reuse of the water we have—and, in the case of California, not letting that water drain into the Pacific Ocean in the first place—could drastically reduce the effects of drought. You can listen to the full interview below:

Numbers support the argument that better water and land management could curb the effects of the state’s drought. In 2014, the Pacific Institute and the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report showing that initiatives such water recycling, stormwater capture, smart irrigation, and better land management (i.e., using plants and permeable surfaces rather than turf and concrete) could help California save up to 14 million acre-feet of water per year. That’s more than the combined annual water use of all of California’s cities.

“There are always barriers. Lack of knowledge is a barrier, lack of financial incentives is a barrier,” Peter Gleick, the president of the Pacific Institute, explained to Mother Jones. “The good news is we know these things work. We know how to capture this potential…The question is: Will we?

Inquiring Minds is a podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and Kishore Hari, the director of the Bay Area Science Festival. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook.

More MotherJones reporting on Climate Desk

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate