In the years following World War II, California industries grew exponentially, offering jobs and opportunity to a recovering nation. This growth, coupled with the beginning of the baby boom, led to a sudden spike in California’s population. With industry growing rapidly in the south it became imperative to find local water sources, or import water from elsewhere. Ultimately, it was believed that water from the north would provide southern California with a reliable water source. With that, the California aqueduct was born and became the largest California water project to date.

The idea of the aqueduct came in 1951; it was created to ensure that people and industry could thrive throughout California. In 1963, the aqueduct was completed and was running at full capacity. It has been used to transport water from the north to the south for over fifty years without any significant technological improvements. Currently, the severity of California’s drought has made the failure in updating the state’s water infrastructure even more troubling. Failure to update our water infrastructure while our population and industries have grown and changed has forced an over-reliance on groundwater and our antiquated conveyance system.

A majority of water used in California during a drought is groundwater. Groundwater comes from aquifers located underneath the earth’s surface which supply water to lakes and rivers. At the rate that groundwater is being utilized without replenishment, it is only a matter of time before it is consumed and Californians suffer the consequences.

During an average year groundwater may provide 40 percent of the water throughout California, but during a drought year the amount raises to as much as 60 percent. After 3 consecutive years of drought, groundwater sources are currently lacking proper storage and management. Without reserves, groundwater levels are shrinking faster than normal, and many groundwater (aquifer) levels are recorded as being 100 feet below previous lows, with no current source of replenishment.

California is the nation’s leader in agricultural production and has been for over fifty years. With groundwater levels shrinking so rapidly, California’s highly productive agricultural industry is in danger. In addition to diminished groundwater levels, California’s second source of water – the Sierra snowpack – is dangerously low as well. As reported by the California Department of Water Resources, the snowpack is 18 percent of average for this time of year. The overuse, or overdraft, of California’s groundwater and the low snowpack have only exacerbated drought conditions, leading to the real need for a sustainable groundwater management plan today.

If the drought endures and groundwater continues to diminish at current rates of usage, devastating job loss will continue. Throughout California’s history water has been the state’s lifeblood, but now there is no water to transport to the Southland and resources are depleting at a rate that is unsustainable. Now the overdraft of groundwater will hurt California residents and ecosystems, ensuring that California’s economy will suffer while the drought continues. With 15,000 jobs lost, over 800,000 acres of farming land fallow, and more than $2.7 billion dollars in crop loss, that is a cost we simply cannot afford.