Big Water Abusers Ignored As California Drought Persists

As the California drought continues, Governor Newsom must move beyond voluntary measures and rein in California’s largest water abusers.

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Climate and EnergyClean Water

by Mark Schlosberg

California’s crushing drought continues and urban water usage increased 19% in March compared to 2021. Yet, Governor Newsom has only done more of the same. He called for increased voluntary conservation by residents and pledged an ad campaign to encourage conservation. But hoping voluntary measures will avoid the impacts of this climate change-induced drought is just wishful thinking. And it gives a pass to the largest corporate water abusers in the state. 

Most Water Use is by Big Agribusiness

Eighty percent of California water goes to agriculture, with most going to big agribusiness. For example, almonds and other tree nuts use 20% of that agricultural water. Most almonds are exported by large corporate interests overseas for massive profits. The Wonderful Company is one such corporation, and its billionaire owners contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Newsom’s campaigns. The acreage of these thirsty crops have only grown since our last drought. 

Mega-dairies, which help drive climate change and water pollution, are also big water abusers. California mega-dairies suck up 142 million gallons of water every day to operate. That’s the same amount needed to supply every person in San Diego and San Jose with their needed daily water.

During droughts, these big interests draw massive amounts of groundwater, which is still largely unregulated in the state. Over-withdrawal of groundwater causes the land to sink, leading to a litany of problems. For example, people who rely on well water for drinking will find it harder to reach and use, and some of their wells will go dry. 

Meanwhile, over a million Californians lack access to clean water. Tulare County houses the most mega-dairies of any CA county. Half of its water supplies are predicted to go dry this year. Governor Newsom could show leadership by working to fast track ground water regulation and stopping the expansion of these industries. 

The Oil and Gas Industry is Also a Big Water Consumer and Polluter

From January 2018 to March 2021, oil and gas companies used more than 3 billion gallons of freshwater for drilling operations. This same amount of water could sustain everyone in the city of Ventura, for example, for 16 months. At the same time, oil and gas development pollutes and threatens California’s finite freshwater resources. Some corporations have routinely injected oil wastewater directly into the state’s aquifers.This toxic wastewater contains fracking fluids, contaminants, brines and radioactive materials. Newsom should stop new drilling permits and aggressively accelerate our transition off oil and gas. 

In response to the drought, Governor Newsom has largely ignored these large corporate water sources. Instead, he has taken small measures aimed at the most wasteful of urban water uses, asked for voluntary conservation and championed climate-intensive and destructive desalination projects (thankfully, the Coastal Commission has the good sense to reject this proposal). This is a mistake that will end up costing Californians. It’s up to us to make sure he hears loud and clear that the time for voluntary measures is over. For our water future and current needs, Newsom must take on Big Ag and Big Oil, while mandating reductions for urban water use as well. 

Demand that Newsom hold big water abusers accountable.