Water Security is National Security

Water resources and how they are managed impact almost all aspects of society and the economy, in particular health, food production and security, domestic water supply and sanitation, energy, industry, and the functioning of ecosystems. Under present climate variability, water stress is already high, particularly in many developing countries, and climate change adds even more urgency for action. Without improved water resources management, the progress towards poverty reduction targets, the Millennium Development Goals, and sustainable development in all its economic, social and environ- mental dimensions, will be jeopardized. UN Water.Org

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Water woes in Lima: A glimpse of our future?

As UN negotiators meet in Lima to work out a plan for dealing with rising temperatures, Matt McGrath visited a community paying a high price for water supplies threatened by climate change and increasing demand. Is Peru's experience a sign of things to come?

Snarling and screeching, the bouncing water truck speeds backwards down the steep hill, in a cloud of coarse dust.

It halts with a judder and a wild eyed, sweaty man jumps from the cab, grabs a large plastic pipe on the back and starts to fill a series of plastic containers on the ground, with little care.

Dressed in bright pink, a woman looks on nonchalantly.

The man runs up to her and holds out his hand. She drops some coins and away he goes, jumping onto the running board of his vehicle, already snorting its way to the next stop.

This is daily routine for tens of thousands of people who live in this sprawling hillside settlement that looks down on the Pacific Ocean, less than an hour north of Lima, Peru.

Water in Nuevo Pachacutec is not just the vital substance for life, it is a measure of social status and progress.

People first came to these hazy hills in the 1980s, in response to politicians who promised them land in return for votes.

When they first arrived the women said their feet would just sink in the sand. That's all that was here.

The politicians allowed them to take the ground - but most of the 160,000 people here do not have legal title. They are "possessors of the land" but not the owners.

And land is too grand a word. This is really a desert. After Cairo, Lima is said to be the world's second biggest city built in one. Rainfall here amounts to just 50mm of water per year.

A river runs through it

A few kilometres south of Nuevo Pachacutec, a miserable, dirty stream meanders under a motorway.

Bags of rubbish sit alongside the ubiquitous tractor tyres.

This is the Chillon river, the sole water source for around two million people in northern Lima.

The waters of the Chillon are fed by glaciers in the Andes. And this is a source of concern.

"We are worried here in Peru because climate change is already having a huge impact on our access to water," says Armando Mendoza a research officer with Oxfam in the country.

"In the last 40 years, the glacial coverage has retreated by 40% more or less, because of the increase in global warming.

"The predictions are that in the future access to water will become even more difficult and the ones who are most vulnerable to this are the poor."

These longer term water issues with glaciers are not the immediate priority in Nuevo Pachacutec.

As well as the speeding tuktuks, the sandy roads are festooned with signs for car washes, even private schools.

Despite the fact that 80% of the homes are made of wood, incomes and aspirations are rising here.

Access to water is critical in this development, as it is in developing nations all over the world.

With funding from the German government, a green group called Alternativa has helped build networks of white water tanks, connected by underground tubes that bring water directly to the houses.

They have also installed 900 outside water points in this sprawling settlement.

Their efforts to date have brought the vital liquid to 9,000 households.

In this community, water is more than just a key ingredient for life, it is a reflection of harsh social divisions.

The blue barrels

Despite the fact that 80% of the homes are made of wood, incomes and aspirations are rising here.

Access to water is critical in this development, as it is in developing nations all over the world.

With funding from the German government, a green group called Alternativa has helped build networks of white water tanks, connected by underground tubes that bring water directly to the houses.

They have also installed 900 outside water points in this sprawling settlement.

Their efforts to date have brought the vital liquid to 9,000 households.

In this community, water is more than just a key ingredient for life, it is a reflection of harsh social divisions.

Radios and children play loudly on the street where Daniza Cruz Navarro lives.

The homes on this stretch are known as the "casas azules" - the blue houses.

Outside many sit blue plastic barrels, some with lids, some without, that hold the water residents get from the trucks that constantly career about the local roads.

Dogs lap from the open containers. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in the water.

"You can see the effects of the way the water is being stored in the kids' health," says Daniza.

"They often get sick, there is often misuse and mismanagement of the water here."

She has moved on from the blue barrel and is now the owner of a more effective and efficient water tank that she has bought through the efforts of Alternativa.

However, as she still gets water directly from the delivery trucks, she has to pay significantly more than her neighbours.

Daniza says she pays 120 Nuevo Soles (£26; $40) per month for the precious water. This is about 10% of her household income.

Those who are connected to the main water grid pay just 6-12 Soles per month.

These are big sums of money and the differences can be a source of friction between neighbours.

Despite these problems, those who work with the people in Nuevo Pachacutec say progress is being made. It's really a story of local self-empowerment.

"Even if they are not perfect, they have bettered considerably," says engineer Osvaldo Caceres who works with Alternativa.

"This infrastructure is managed by them, for them. The local population know what they want, but they know and understand they have to participate to get it.

Plug and pay


"When we first got here it was all desert - there were no roads, it was pure sand," says Ycella Bonilla a resident of Nuevo Pachacutec.

She stands proudly in the doorway of her recently built bathroom cum laundry room, completed with the help of microfinance.

Ycella calls it her "unit of dignity".

Despite this advance, Ycella and her family are still paying heavily for water. She has a hose and a key that allows her family to plug into a water point. For this she pays 80 Nuevo Soles a month (£18; $27) a month.

Despite the gripes over cost, Ycella recognises that water is the bedrock of development for the community.

"We have roads, we have schools, we have a lot of the basic necessities now, including water."

The struggle for development and the need to have resources like water to empower that development is not just on the minds of those in Nuevo Pachacutec.

An hour down the road in Lima itself, UN climate negotiators are struggling with that same dilemma. How to balance the burgeoning needs of a growing population, with the need to limit those same enriching activities because they threaten the future of the planet.

Osvaldo Caceres says that as in solving the water stresses of Nuevo Pachacutec, the climate battle can be won, by everyone playing their part now. It's no use passing the buck down the generations.

"Every actor in this chain must take responsibility for what they have to do," he says.

"The governments, the authorities, and obviously the people, they all need to act." "There is no other way." More

 

 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Drought Management Experts Examine Tools to Address Water Scarcity

21 November 2014: The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Centre for Natural Resources and Development (CRND), the Climate Services Partnership, the International Centre for Integrated Water Resources Management (ICIWaRM) and the government of Flanders, Belgium, organized an international symposium on ‘Building a Community of Practice on Drought Management Tools'.


The meeting aimed to: develop project proposals and solutions to promote international cooperation on drought; and establish a community of practice to share information and develop drought management tools. The community of practice will be integrated into existing regional networks, including: Aridas-Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC); CNRD; the UNESCO Global Network for Water and Development Information in Arid Lands (G-WADI); and Columbia University Global Centres.


The meeting took place from 19-21 November 2014, in Santiago, Chile. [UNESCO Press Release] [Symposium Website] More

 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Drought-hit Sao Paulo may 'get water from mud'

RIO DE JANEIRO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - São Paulo, Brazil's drought-hit megacity of 20 million, has about two months of guaranteed water supply remaining as it taps into the second of three emergency reserves, officials say.

The city began using its second so-called "technical reserve" 10 days ago to prevent a water crisis after reservoirs reached critically low levels last month.

This is the first time the state has resorted to using the reserves, experts say.

"If we take into account the same pattern of water extraction and rainfall that we've seen so far this month - and it's been raining less than half of the average - we can say the (reserve) will last up to 60 days," said Marussia Whately, a water resources specialist at environmental NGO Instituto Socioambiental.

But an expected increase in water usage during the upcoming Christmas and New Year's holidays could easily reduce the time the reserve will last, she added.

After that period, there is no certainty over the water supply available to Brazil's wealthiest city and financial center, Whately said.

If rain doesn't replenish the Cantareira system - the main group of reservoirs that supply São Paulo - the city could run dry, she said.

FINAL RESERVE

A third and final technical reserve might be used, but it is difficult to access and mixed with silt that could make pumping it to users difficult, according to Vicente Andreu, the president of the water regulatory agency ANA.

"I believe that, technically, it would be unviable. But if it doesn't rain, we won't have an alternative but to get water from the mud," Andreu said at a hearing about the water crisis in Brasilia's Lower House of Congress on Nov. 13.

Brazil's southeast region is suffering its worst drought in at least 80 years after an unusually dry year left rivers and reservoirs at critically low levels.

Antonio Nobre, a leading climate scientist at INPE, Brazil's National Space Research Institute, has linked Brazil's worsening drought to global warming and deforestation in the Amazon. Both are drastically reducing the release of billions of liters of water by rainforest trees, which reduces rainfall further south, he said.

PLANNING AND POLITICAL FAILURES

Poor planning and a lack of investment to boost reservoir capacity also have left São Paulo teetering on the brink of disaster, experts say.

A presidential election in October, which pitted the governing Workers Party (PT) against the opposition Social Democracy Party (PSDB), led São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB to delay taking action on the water shortage - such as ordering mandatory rationing - for fear of losing votes during his reelection campaign, experts say.

Now some fear changes are coming too late for São Paulo. Alckmin has pledged to invest 3.5 billion reais ($1.4 billion) to build new reservoirs and improve distribution - but most of the work won't be completed for at least a year.

Brazil's government has treated the crisis as a temporary problem that would likely go away with the first heavy rains of the summer, rather than a sign of potentially longer-term problems with water security, Andreu said.

He has criticized the government's response to the crisis and its inaction when scientists last year started to warn about a potentially devastating drought in 2014.

Now politicians admit there is a crisis, and they are finally taking action.

The states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, where more than half of Brazil's GDP is produced, on Nov. 27 agreed on works to divert water from the main river that supplies Rio de Janeiro to reservoirs in São Paulo.

Civil society organisations are pressing the government to take more radical action, such as mandatory rationing.

LOOKING TO 2015

The Alliance for Water, a growing group of NGOs that includes Greenpeace, The Nature Conservancy and WWF, is demanding a plan to prepare for next year's dry season, which starts in April.

"We are starting 2015 with a serious deficit that won't be resolved this summer, so we must start thinking about what to do in April, when the dry season begins and we won't have any more technical reserves to use," said Whately, who is coordinating the Alliance for Water.

Sabesp, the water utility that serves São Paulo, accessed a first emergency water reserve in May totaling 480 billion liters.

That reserve started to run out in the second half of October, and reservoirs reached just 3 percent of their capacity on Oct. 21.

State-owned Sabesp was then allowed to tap a second emergency reserve, of 106 billion liters, lifting reservoir capacity above 10 percent.

But now, just weeks after this second emergency supply started to be used, water levels at the Cantareira reservoirs are once again below 10 percent, according to the company.

The third reserve, with 200 billion liters of water, is the deepest, and is located in smaller reservoirs and in passageways that connect reservoirs, which are harder to tap. Unlike the water in the reservoirs, which are drawn by gravity, the reserves water must be pumped out, according to ANA's Andreu. (Reporting by Adriana Brasileiro, editing by Laurie Goering) More

 

Friday, November 21, 2014

IWMI Launches Book on Developing Water-Related SDGs



IWMI logo20 October 2014: The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) has released a book, titled ‘On Target for People and Planet: Setting and Achieving Water-Related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),' which highlights that framing water-related SDGs in a water security context provides a more comprehensive framework than the human-needs approach of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


The book calls for: recognizing economic water scarcity; balancing development and conservation needs; and exploring pragmatic solutions. The book also identifies four key challenges: development of broad partnerships within the water sector and beyond; accommodation of growth requirements particularly in Asia and Africa; large-scale investments in water resources and agriculture need to complement, rather than undermine small-scale producers; and integration of policies for coherent water management across sectors. Next steps are also identified in the book: supporting governments to set national targets; achieving water and food security-related SDGs; and measuring and tracking progress.


The book includes chapters on: water-food-energy nexus; water governance; water metrics; social inclusion; sustainable development and ecosystem services; managing water variability; water quality; and accessing and putting water to productive use in Sub-Saharan Africa. [Publication: On Target for People and Planet: Setting and Achieving Water-Related SDGs] More






Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wells Dry, Fertile Plains Turn to Dust

HASKELL COUNTY, Kan. — Forty-nine years ago, Ashley Yost’s grandfather sank a well deep into a half-mile square of rich Kansas farmland. He struck an artery of water so prodigious that he could pump 1,600 gallons to the surface every minute.

Last year, Mr. Yost was coaxing just 300 gallons from the earth, and pumping up sand in order to do it. By harvest time, the grit had robbed him of $20,000 worth of pumps and any hope of returning to the bumper harvests of years past.

“That’s prime land,” he said not long ago, gesturing from his pickup at the stubby remains of last year’s crop. “I’ve raised 294 bushels of corn an acre there before, with water and the Lord’s help.” Now, he said, “it’s over.”

The land, known as Section 35, sits atop the High Plains Aquifer, a waterlogged jumble of sand, clay and gravel that begins beneath Wyoming and South Dakota and stretches clear to the Texas Panhandle. The aquifer’s northern reaches still hold enough water in many places to last hundreds of years. But as one heads south, it is increasingly tapped out, drained by ever more intensive farming and, lately, by drought.

Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry. In many other places, there no longer is enough water to supply farmers’ peak needs during Kansas’ scorching summers.

And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains.

This is in many ways a slow-motion crisis — decades in the making, imminent for some, years or decades away for others, hitting one farm but leaving an adjacent one untouched. But across the rolling plains and tarmac-flat farmland near the Kansas-Colorado border, the effects of depletion are evident everywhere. Highway bridges span arid stream beds. Most of the creeks and rivers that once veined the land have dried up as 60 years of pumping have pulled groundwater levels down by scores and even hundreds of feet.

On some farms, big center-pivot irrigators — the spindly rigs that create the emerald circles of cropland familiar to anyone flying over the region — now are watering only a half-circle. On others, they sit idle altogether.

Two years of extreme drought, during which farmers relied almost completely on groundwater, have brought the seriousness of the problem home. In 2011 and 2012, the Kansas Geological Survey reports, the average water level in the state’s portion of the aquifer dropped 4.25 feet — nearly a third of the total decline since 1996.

And that is merely the average. “I know my staff went out and re-measured a couple of wells because they couldn’t believe it,” said Lane Letourneau, a manager at the State Agriculture Department’s water resources division. “There was a 30-foot decline.”

Kansas agriculture will survive the slow draining of the aquifer — even now, less than a fifth of the state’s farmland is irrigated in any given year — but the economic impact nevertheless will be outsized. In the last federal agriculture census of Kansas, in 2007, an average acre of irrigated land produced nearly twice as many bushels of corn, two-thirds more soybeans and three-fifths more wheat than did dry land.

Farmers will take a hit as well. Raising crops without irrigation is far cheaper, but yields are far lower. Drought is a constant threat: the last two dry-land harvests were all but wiped out by poor rains.

In the end, most farmers will adapt to farming without water, said Bill Golden, an agriculture economist at Kansas State University. “The revenue losses are there,” he said. “But they’re not as tremendously significant as one might think.”

Some already are. A few miles west of Mr. Yost’s farm, Nathan Kells cut back on irrigation when his wells began faltering in the last decade, and shifted his focus to raising dairy heifers — 9,000 on that farm, and thousands more elsewhere. At about 12 gallons a day for a single cow, Mr. Kells can sustain his herd with less water than it takes to grow a single circle of corn.

“The water’s going to flow to where it’s most valuable, whether it be industry or cities or feed yards,” he said. “We said, ‘What’s the higher use of the water?’ and decided that it was the heifer operation.”

The problem, others say, is that when irrigation ends, so do the jobs and added income that sustain rural communities.

“Looking at areas of Texas where the groundwater has really dropped, those towns are just a shell of what they once were,” said Jim Butler, a hydrogeologist and senior scientist at the Kansas Geological Survey.

The villain in this story is in fact the farmers’ savior: the center-pivot irrigator, a quarter- or half-mile of pipe that traces a watery circle around a point in the middle of a field. The center pivots helped start a revolution that raised farming from hardscrabble work to a profitable business.

Since the pivots’ debut some six decades ago, the amount of irrigated cropland in Kansas has grown to nearly three million acres, from a mere 250,000 in 1950. But the pivot irrigators’ thirst for water — hundreds and sometimes thousands of gallons a minute — has sent much of the aquifer on a relentless decline. And while the big pivots have become much more efficient, a University of California study earlier this year concluded that Kansas farmers were using some of their water savings to expand irrigation or grow thirstier crops, not to reduce consumption.

A shift to growing corn, a much thirstier crop than most, has only worsened matters. Driven by demand, speculation and a government mandate to produce biofuels, the price of corn has tripled since 2002, and Kansas farmers have responded by increasing the acreage of irrigated cornfields by nearly a fifth.

At an average 14 inches per acre in a growing season, a corn crop soaks up groundwater like a sponge — in 2010, the State Agriculture Department said, enough to fill a space a mile square and nearly 2,100 feet high.

Sorghum, or milo, gets by on a third less water, Kansas State University researchers say — and it, too, is in demand by biofuel makers. As Kansas’ wells peter out, more farmers are switching to growing milo on dry land or with a comparative sprinkle of irrigation water.

But as long as there is enough water, most farmers will favor corn. “The issue that often drives this is economics,” said David W. Hyndman, who heads Michigan State University’s geological sciences department. “And as long as you’ve got corn that’s $7, then a lot of choices get made on that.”

Of the 800 acres that Ashley Yost farmed last year in Haskell County, about 70 percent was planted in corn, including roughly 125 acres in Section 35. Haskell County’s feedlots — the county is home to 415,000 head of cattle — and ethanol plants in nearby Liberal and Garden City have driven up the price of corn handsomely, he said.

But this year he will grow milo in that section, and hope that by ratcheting down the speed of his pump, he will draw less sand, even if that means less water, too. The economics of irrigation, he said, almost dictate it.

“You’ve got $20,000 of underground pipe,” he said. “You’ve got a $10,000 gas line. You’ve got a $10,000 irrigation motor. You’ve got an $89,000 pivot. And you’re going to let it sit there and rot?

“If you can pump 150 gallons, that’s 150 gallons Mother Nature is not giving us. And if you can keep a milo crop alive, you’re going to do it.”

Mr. Yost’s neighbors have met the prospect of dwindling water in starkly different ways. A brother is farming on pivot half-circles. A brother-in-law moved most of his operations to Iowa. Another farmer is suing his neighbors, accusing them of poaching water from his slice of the aquifer.

A fourth grows corn with an underground irrigation system that does not match the yields of water-wasting center-pivot rigs, but is far thriftier in terms of water use and operating costs.

For his part, Mr. Yost continues to pump. But he also allowed that the day may come when sustaining what is left of the aquifer is preferable to pumping as much as possible.

Sitting in his Ford pickup next to Section 35, he unfolded a sheet of white paper that tracked the decline of his grandfather’s well: from 1,600 gallons a minute in 1964, to 1,200 in 1975, to 750 in 1976.

When the well slumped to 500 gallons in 1991, the Yosts capped it and drilled another nearby. Its output sank, too, from 1,352 gallons to 300 today.

This year, Mr. Yost spent more than $15,000 to drill four test wells in Section 35. The best of them produced 195 gallons a minute — a warning, he said, that looking further for an isolated pocket of water would be costly and probably futile.

“We’re on the last kick,” he said. “The bulk water is gone.” More

 

 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Water Resource Management- New Publication 2014

Department of Organic Food Quality and Food Culture, University of Kassel and Department of Archaeology and Heritage Management, Rajarata University, Sri Lanka are pleased to announce about the publication of their new research paper, titled "Water Resource Management in Dry Zonal Paddy Cultivation in Mahaweli River Basin, Sri Lanka: An Analysis of Spatial and Temporal Climate Change Impacts and Traditional Knowledge" in the Special Issue "Changes in precipitation and impacts on regional water resources", Climate Journal International.

The paper may be accessed at http://www.mdpi.com/2225-1154/2/4/329

Abstract: Lack of attention to spatial and temporal cross-scale dynamics and effects could be understood as one of the lacunas in scholarship on river basin management. Within the water-climate-food-energy nexus, an integrated and inclusive approach that recognizes traditional knowledge about and experiences of climate change and water resource management can provide crucial assistance in confronting problems in megaprojects and multipurpose river basin management projects.

The Mahaweli Development Program (MDP), a megaproject and multipurpose river basin management project, is demonstrating substantial failures with regards to the spatial and temporal impacts of climate change and socioeconomic demands for water allocation and distribution for paddy cultivation in the dry zone area, which was one of the driving goals of the project at the initial stage. This interdisciplinary study explores how spatial and temporal climatic changes and uncertainty n weather conditions impact paddy cultivation in dry zonal areas with competing stakeholders' interest in the Mahaweli River Basin.

In the framework of embedded design in the mixed methods research approach, qualitative data is the primary source while quantitative analyses are used as supportive data. The key findings from the research analysis are as follows: close and in-depth consideration of spatial and temporal changes in climate systems and paddy farmers' socioeconomic demands altered by seasonal changes are important factors. These factors should be considered in the future modification of water allocation, application of distribution technologies, and decision-making with regards to water resource management in the dry zonal paddy cultivation of Sri Lanka. More

 

 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Drought Is Taking California Back to the Wild, Wild West

Mary Madden feels paranoid. Last fall Madden noticed something suspicious. The water filling the tanks outside her veterinary clinic in Los Gatos, Calif., was disappearing at an alarming rate. Madden checked for leaks but found none. Then she realized: Someone was stealing her water.

"I just couldn't believe it," she said. "You never imagine anyone would do something like that but there it was, vanishing right before our eyes."

Madden decided to act. She installed security cameras. Then she put locks on the tanks. She even strung a chain across her driveway to keep out unwanted visitors. The theft stopped after the locks went on. But Madden never caught the thief, and she can't stop thinking about who did it.

"This is a really small community, so you sit here and start going through everyone you know and wondering if it was them," she said.

Madden is not alone. Water theft has become increasingly common in California as the state suffers through its worst drought on record. There's no reliable tracking of just how much water has gone missing. But reports of theft rose dramatically in the past year. Officials say a black market set up to peddle water is thriving as wells run dry. And law enforcement is scrambling to respond.

Mendocino County has made catching water thieves a top priority. The sheriff's office set up a water-theft hotline and investigates every tip. It also puts out patrols to sniff out suspicious activity.

In August, a sheriff's deputy there followed a trail of water droplets up a dirt road where he discovered a truck outfitted with a water tank. A confession came quickly. The driver had siphoned water from a nearby canal and planned to sell it to the highest bidder.

The Public Works Department in Lemoore, in Kings County, hired someone to scan city streets for thieves after officials found evidence that someone has been stealing water from fire hydrants.

For now, a statewide effort to curb water theft has yet to materialize. So cities and counties have been left to devise their own methods of retribution.

Officials complain that the penalty for getting caught may not be sufficiently strict: Mendocino County counts water theft as a misdemeanor. County Supervisor Carre Brown considers that a slap on the wrist. "To me this is like looting during a disaster. It should be a felony," Brown said.

Contra Costa County fines anyone caught stealing water $25. Amid worsening theft, the county may soon increase the penalty to $250 and up the amount to $500 for repeat offenders.

But even with all the attention from law enforcement, officials say that much of the theft has gone unpunished.

"This is something that's very hard to pin down. If you don't catch someone in the act, how do you prove they did it?" Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said.

As a result, some California residents have taken matters into their own hands. Online forums and community message boards serve as informal channels where people can post a warning. Word-of-mouth has also proven effective at spreading information.

After Madden told people what had happened, neighbors started to keep an eye on her property. "People will tell me if they see a truck lingering nearby when I'm not there," she said. "We all look out for each other."

Rural communities where residents rely on well water and areas of the state that play host to agricultural operations and illegal marijuana cultivation have been particularly hard hit.

Thousands of gallons of water were stolen from a fire station in North San Juan, a town nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, at the height of wildfire season this summer. The theft was discovered after an engineer hit the station's water tank and heard a hollow ringing sound rather than the usual thud.

"We were just absolutely stunned," said Boyd Johnson, a battalion chief with the North San Juan fire department. "Fires are on everyone's mind during the summer so to see this happen, I think it really scared people."

Residents of North San Juan depend on wells for water. The area is also known for growing marijuana and located just a few hours north of California's Central Valley, an area of the state where farmers rely on massive amounts of water to ensure the success of their crops.

This past summer thieves also made off with water from an elementary school and a public health clinic on the San Juan Ridge.

James Berardi, the principal of the school that was hit, says security cameras have been installed in an effort to catch thieves. The fire department is also taking precautions. After the theft, lockboxes with a combination padlock were put on each of the station's water tanks.

"It slows us down a bit getting to the water, but at least we know it's safe," Johnson said.

A growing number of wells have run dry on the ridge as the drought drags on. And that, according to Caleb Dardick, a resident of nearby Nevada City, means the theft is unlikely to end anytime soon.

"People are becoming desperate," Dardick said. "The situation has become really severe in the last few years."

All this has made water a chief concern for residents of the state who say they never used to give water a second thought.

"I think about water constantly, obsessively," Madden said. "I wake up every day dreading what might happen if we run out." More