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

Friday, September 19, 2014

Jamaican's Cautioned Against False Sense Of Water Security

THE RAINS have returned, bringing with them relief from drought conditions that plagued the island during the summer, but Jamaicans must guard against a false sense of water security.

Hope River in dry season

So says Director of the Climate Studies Group Mona Dr Michael Taylor, who is supported in his caution by Herbert Thomas, deputy managing director of the Water Resources Authority.

Taylor, a physicist, urges Jamaicans to be mindful not only of the El Niño phenomenon that promises a return to the dry spell towards the end of this year and into next year. They need, too, he warned, to be cognisant of climate change, which will see the island experiencing longer and more severe dry spells over the long term, as well as flooding incidents.

"As El Niño peaks, we might revert to dry conditions somewhere between the end of the year and early next year, but as it declines, we are susceptible to the reverse, which is flooding, when the early rainfall season kicks in," he said.

"So the point is, we have to figure out how to be resilient to these swings in extremes from drought to flood within the course of a year, and these kinds of swings will become more and more the norm under climate change," the scientist posited.

This is borne out by research done over the last two to three years by the Climate Studies Group for the Planning Institute of Jamaica.

That research, Taylor said, looks at climate scenarios up to 2040, with a focus on projections for temperature and rainfall.

"The temperature will continue increasing about one degree up to 2040, and that is further from where we are now. We have warmed by about one degree over the last 50 years. What that really translates into is, the number of really hot days is increasing every year and the number of really hot nights is also increasing and will continue to increase," he said.

"Rainfall will continue with this form of variability, which is a yearly swing between drought and flood conditions, but by 2040 will show the beginning of an overall long-term drying trend. This means that, from 2040 onward, even though we will get rain, we will get less overall rain," added Taylor.

The solution, he said, is a comprehensive look at water security, something Government is attempting to tackle, with work ongoing on a new water policy that takes account of climate impacts.

"We need to be concerned about water capture, water storage, water access, conservation, efficiency, and using science to help us to better plan for these kinds of extreme variations," the head of the physics department at the University of the West Indies said.

Thomas agreed, noting that the island's long-term water security will depend on a comprehensive plan, informed by the new water policy now nearing completion, and with both private citizens and Government working in concert.

"Some people like to stand under the shower and sing. Cutting out things like those [is important]; you would be surprised to know the amount of water you waste that way," he told The Gleaner recently.

Retrofitting for conservation

In addition, Thomas said Jamaicans might have to look at retrofitting their homes and offices to include features such as low-flush toilets and faucets that use less water for showers. This, while the island looks at alternative energy sources in order to reduce the overall cost of getting water to the areas where it is needed.

Checks with communications manager at the National Water Commission, Charles Buchanan, revealed that current electricity cost for water stands at some of $500 million monthly.

Beyond that, Thomas said there is the need to look at rainwater harvesting and the comprehensive use of wastewater, to which the water policy also gives attention.

"For example, the treated sewage out at Soapberry, there is the thinking that some of the water could be used in St Catherine areas for agriculture and, therefore, the water normally used for agriculture could be freed up for domestic use in Kingston," he noted.

"And there are other things ... . You might have to consider a double-plumbing system so you separate grey water (water from bathroom sinks, tubs and washing machines, etc) from black water. Grey water you can use to flush toilets and water lawns," Thomas added. More


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wastewater recycling, part of the solution to water shortage?

After the report on mountaineering and my experiences on the ascent to Mount Aconcagua, I return to the subject of water, and the opportunities and challenges in recycling it.

In earlier posts here I wrote about a very sophisticated system of wastewater recycling in Singapore, which turns it back into drinking water.

And at this year’s Singapore International Water Week, the Californian Orange County received the highest recognition, for a scheme where perfectly treated wastewater is pumped back into underground aquifers, to be later pumped up again as drinking water. It also serves as a barrier to seawater intrusion.

These two examples, especially Singapore, are probably the most far-reaching examples I know of achievement in water recycling.

Places like San Diego, hit by a drought, are now re-considering again the idea to follow the Singapore example, despite some opposition from civil society. So, to what extent is it possible to scale up these kinds of activities globally; is there potential for wastewater to contribute in a substantial way to closing the gap of some 300 cubic kilometres between the level of water withdrawals and sustainable supply?

Estimates show close to 300 cubic kilometres of wastewater is generated by municipalities per year (average 2003-12). This is the equivalent of some 50% of global average annual withdrawals for household use.

Part of the other 50% of withdrawals not counted as ‘wastewater’ may well be lost in leakage in pipes (in some countries this accounts for up to 70% of the water withdrawn by the municipal water supply schemes). Another part could be ‘used’ through evapotranspiration in lawns and gardens, etc.

As the table below shows, only about half of this wastewater is actually collected and treated, but less than 10% of the treated wastewater is directly reused.

Table 1: Municipal wastewater generation and treatment data 2003-2012, country groups by income per capita

Source: FAO aquastat


To get an idea of how municipal water could contribute to closing the gap between withdrawals and sustainable supply, let me go through the water supply chain.

The first step would require a better understanding of what happens with the 50% of municipal water apparently ‘disappearing’. Where this is down to leakage, governments have to set the right incentives so municipal water authorities address the issue.

One way proposed by the 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG) in South Africa, which has been implemented by the government there, is to measure both water delivery and water intake, and to pay a premium to the schemes where the difference (i.e., water unaccounted for) gets smaller.

According to 2030 WRG cost-curve estimates, the cost savings would by far exceed the necessary spending to reduce the leakage.

As part of my proposals for targets within the water goal for post-2015 sustainable development, I suggest primary treatment of all wastewater by 2030 - an idea I will come back to in a later post.

So, what happens with 285 km³ of estimated wastewater generated, and what needs to be done? We will first have to increase collection, particularly in economically deprived areas, to make sure wastewater is collected and available for proper treatment.

Actually, only 36% of the world’s population has a sewage connection; this leaves 4.6 billion people unconnected. According to a WHO study, initial investment to set up a sewer connection is about USD 170 per capita; so the investment cost to connect them would be somewhere close to USD 800 billion. The annual cost of capital, repayment and operating cost is estimated at USD 1 per m³.

Next: treatment of both the up-to-now untreated collected – and the newly collected – wastewater. Estimates amount to USD 0.35 per m³. A big part of this cost is energy, an often forgotten link in the water-food-energy nexus framework.

And last but not least: less than 10% of treated wastewater is used directly. This can and must be increased. Direct use is, for instance, the Singapore approach, bringing treated water back to consumers as so-called ‘NEWater’.

Another example is Australia: around 1.4 cubic kilometers of municipal wastewater are treated, of which 0.4 cubic kilometers are used directly, mostly in agriculture.

At Nestlé we have a similar approach. All our factories treat wastewater (in fact the first wastewater treatment plant in the group was built in the 1930s, so we understood the need for this very early) and as much of this treated wastewater as possible is used directly.

At the same time, we should keep in mind indirect use, even though it’s often difficult to measure. Treated wastewater is returned to rivers and then often withdrawn again and treated further for human consumption.

One might, for instance, assume that a significant part of the water in the River Thames, once it reaches London, is treated wastewater from communities further up the river. Increasing the share of direct use of wastewater should clearly be encouraged – in a form accepted by local communities.

So, all in all there are some significant opportunities to use treated wastewater as a resource, helping to close the gap between freshwater withdrawals and sustainable supply. But these opportunities need to be carefully evaluated, to make sure they are fully accepted, but also cost and energy effective when compared to other solutions. Via Peter Brabeck-Letmathe - Linkedin More


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Ongoing drought in Brazil brings rising tensions

The western USA is not the only place suffering from lack of rain, Latin America's economic powerhouse has been struck hard by a powerful and ongoing water crisis.

The worst drought since records began 84 years ago has constrained the Brazillian economy in many ways, particularly coffee production, agriculture and hydroelectric power generation, which accounted for 80% of electricity generation. This power fuels the economic development on which millions are counting to rise out of poverty, and the loss has slowed the entire economy, due to the need to import expensive fossil fuels in order to keep the lights on and water pumps running (costing $6 billion extra so far this year, while increasing the country's greenhouse gas emissions).

Water rationing has been imposed in many parts of the country for months, but the situation is approaching a critical point. Nineteen large cities are under water rationing rules, and the water catchment capacity feeding the megalopolis of Sao Paolo (20 million inhabitants and the economic capital of the entire continent) is down to 10%. Carefully husbanded, and tapping water usually deemed of inferior quality, there is enough left to squeeze out of the system for a hundred days consumption. States are now squabbling over allocation of the remaining water resources, and fighting has erupted sporadically in some rural areas.

In Sao Paolo itself, financial incentives to reduce consumption have been accompanied by cutting water pressure at night, effectively cutting off all the poorer areas of the city which sit on hills. In nearby Gaurulhos residents of some neighbourhoods are getting water one day in three. Balancing the competing needs of drinking water and power generation is also having societal consequences, exacerbating general social tension, and helping fuel reactions such as the protests and riots back in June.

The drought may be linked to climate change, since the rains that normally come south from evaporation in the Amazon basin failed to arrive, a potentially very worrying symptom. It also reveals some of the likely types of economic cost and societal tension that will arise and worsen as the world warms further and the consequences begin to bite. Some early spring rains appeared in Brazil this week, enough at least to halt the fall in Sao Paolo's reserves, but the prognosis for the coming rainy season is still very uncertain.

Via Facebook -The Earth Story

Image credit: Reuters/Nacho Doce






Sunday, September 7, 2014

Drought apocalypse begins in California as wells run dry

(NaturalNews) Water wells in central California have begun to run dry, reports the LA Times. (1) "Extreme drought conditions have become so harsh for the Central Valley community of East Porterville [that] many of its residents dependent on their own wells have run out of water."

Tulare County has confirmed their wells have run out of water, and so far hundreds of homes have no running water.

According to the LA Times, rumors are also spreading that Child Protective Services officials will begin taking children away from families who have no running water, although the county claims the rumor is false.

It begins: the collapse of California's water aquifers

With this news, it is now official that the collapse of California's water aquifers has begun. With each passing month and year, more and more wells will run dry across the state as California plummets into the desert conditions from which it once sprang.

Extreme drought now covers 82% of California, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. (2) Fifty-eight percent of the state is in "exceptional drought."

During the unfolding of this drought, California farmers and cities have siphoned unprecedented volumes of water out of the state's underground aquifers. This is called "fossil water" and it can take centuries to regenerate. Once this fossil water is used up, it's gone.

35-year "megadrought" may be on the way

"The southwestern United States has fifty percent change of suffering a 'megadrought' that lasts 35 years," reports the Daily Mail. (3)

"They say global warming has meant the chance of a decade long drought is at least 50 percent, and the chances of a 'megadrought' – one that lasts up to 35 years – ranges from 20 to 50 percent over the next century."

One scientist is quoted in the story as saying, "This will be worse than anything seen during the last 2,000 years and would pose unprecedented challenges to water resources in the region."

Unless politicians become magical wizards and figure out a way to create water out of nothing, what all this really means is that cities of the American southwest will not be able to support present-day populations. A mass migration (evacuation) out of the cities will be necessary sooner or later.

California's water deficit will lead to ecological and economic collapse

In an almost perfect reflection of California's state budget deficits, the state is also running an unsustainable water deficit. It is a mathematical certainty that when you remove far more water from the aquifers than is being replenished, the amount of water remaining in those aquifers will eventually reach zero.

This "zero day" water reality is still psychologically denied by most Californians. If the reality of this situation were widely recognized, California would be experiencing a glut of real estate inventory as millions of homeowners tried to sell their properties and evacuate the state. The fact that the real estate market has not yet collapsed in California tells us that Californians are still living in a state of denial about the future of their water supply.

Even as California's water supply collapses by the day, local farmers and towns have few options other than drilling for more water. "Drill! Drill! Drill!" is the mantra of the day, creating an 18-month backlog for well drilling companies. Each new well that's drilled must seek to go deeper than the previous wells which are running dry. It's a literal race to the bottom which can only end in catastrophe.

Then again, a willful acceleration toward catastrophe is merely a sign of the times when it comes to human civilization. There is almost no area in which humans have ever achieved balance: not in fossil fuels, metals mining, fossil water exploitation, debt creation, industrial chemical contamination, ecological exploitation or even global population. It's almost as if the human race is determined to destroy itself while racing to see who can achieve self destruction first. More


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Henan’s Big Drought. Is This From The South–North Water Transfer Project?

Mainland media reported that, since this summer, Henan Province rainfall is 60 percent less than usual over the same period since 1951, which is the lowest value over the same period of history. Pingdingshan City's main water source, Baiguishan reservoir water level is even lower than the dead water of 97.5 meters.

Henan Zhecheng County Shuangmiao Village Ms. Li, “over the entire summer it did not rain. The crops are dry. We are not allowed to irrigate the crops. If I use the well water, I probably cannot even have drinking water."

Droughts have had a serious impact on local agriculture.

Ms. Li, "most places basically have no harvest. Individual crops can be harvested a little, but there is not much. If one place can harvest 40 percent, that’s the best.''

Hubei Province is rich in water during the main flood season this year. But rainfall in most areas decreased by more than 20 percent. 111 small reservoirs and over 50,000 ponds dried up; over 600 reservoirs are below the dead water level; Hanjiang River downstream water level dropped. Danjiangkou reservoir water level is only 142.77 meters on August 19. This is far below the SNWTP planned water level of 170 meters.

For this major disaster, the authorities explained that the drought is caused by a variety of climatic reasons. They claimed that, even if the current trend of precipitation is "north flood south dry", it is still to "transfer water from south to north" to fill the gap of an especially severe water shortage in Beijing.

But the villagers in drought regions have different thoughts.

Ms. Li, " we all think it is due to the SNWTP. In previous years, it was not as dry as in these years."

Villagers discussed and believe that, SNWTP leads the Han River, the Yangtze River and the Yellow River water back and forth; the Three Gorges Reservoir also caused natural flowing rivers to change direction. Poor circulation, and loss of groundwater resources are also very serious. It has a massive impact not only to the surrounding geological environment, but also caused imbalances to the water, clouds, rain, and natural circulation system leading to a severe drought.

Living in Germany, water resources expert Wang Weiluo, has published many articles about Jiang Zemin who to "supply water to the 2008 Beijing Olympics", hastily approved and launched the SNWTP in 2001. It introduced one billion cubic meters of water annually to Beijing, with diversion channels crossing more than 700 natural rivers in Central China. The project completely

broke the law of nature of these rivers; There is a serious engineering problem, even bigger than the Three Gorges, and the threat is to a wider area.

Beijing electrical engineer Mr. Tian, "in principle there is a problem, because it is not that the south is high, the north is low, and it naturally flows across. It is to artificially add a number of processes, which undermines the law of nature. I think this may be even worse than the Three Gorges Dam."

Problems have been reported recently about SNWTP by the media. When the Diversion project tested the water on July 3 for the first time, the media exposed that the water source from Danjiangkou Reservoir exceeded the nitrogen content, and was seriously polluted. The official also acknowledged that water quality for nitrogen and phosphorus exceeded the standards. However he stressed that it would naturally degrade through long-distance transportation.

In late July, the mainland media also reported that SNWTP led to a decrease in the Han River water level. Due to the reduced water flow the fish were unable to spawn by end of July, while in previous years they had finished spawning. Yicheng city located by the Han River was without water three times since last year, the longest time was 48 hours.

In addition to the environmental damages, Beijing electrical engineer Mr. Tian pointed out that the drain from SNWTP is likely to outweigh the benefits.

Mr. Tian, "this unnatural process takes a lot of energy and wastes a lot of water. Introduce ten percent water, and finally arriving in Beijing, maybe even not two percent will get there."

SNWTP has three water diversion routes, namely the east, middle and west line. Of which the middle and east lines cost amounted to 500 billion yuan, 2.5 times larger than the Three Gorges Project. The East line is pumped from the Yangtze River to Tianjin, Qingdao and Yantai direction. The Midline is from Danjiangkou Reservoir as a division of Yangtze tributary the Han River, in Beijing’s direction; The West line is from the upper Yangtze River to the Yellow River water diversion. The East line started in December 2002, until December 8, 2013 the water went through. The Midline started in December 2003, is expected to have water through in October 2014. The West Line has not been started yet. More


ADB Spotlights Pakistan’s Water Assessment and Management Plan

News: ADB Spotlights Pakistan’s Water Assessment and Management Plan

ADBSeptember 2014: The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has published a report titled ‘Water Balance: Achieving Sustainable Development through a Water Assessment and Management Plan – The Case of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Pakistan.' The report presents the case of the development of the FATA Water Assessment and Management Plan, outlining elements necessary in such assessment, and emphasizing that inefficient and unsustainable management of development initiatives result from lack of information about water availability and cause watershed degradation.

Integrated water resources management (IWRM) was used as a core approach in the development of possible activities to promote the sustainable use of water resources in the FATA region. While noting much of the data used is historical, the report emphasizes that climate change is likely to alter current water availability patterns, and calls for integrating hydrological forecasting and climate change models into the assessment.

The report includes sections on: background; project area; assessing surface water availability; assessing groundwater; assessing water consumption; water balance model; water management plan; and conclusions. [Publication: Water Balance: Achieving Sustainable Development through a Water Assessment and Management Plan – The Case of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Pakistan]

Read more: http://water-l.iisd.org/news/adb-spotlights-pakistans-water-assessment-and-management-plan/

Peak Water

There is a lot of water on planet Earth – 326,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons (329 trillion gallons), or 1,260,000,000,000,000,000,000 litres. About 70 percent of the planet is made of oceans and 98 percent of all the water on earth is in the oceans. That’s a lot of water.

Only 2 percent of all this water is fresh drinking water but most of that is locked up in the polar icecaps and glaciers – approximately 80 percent (or 1.6 percent of the planet’s water). Another 36 percent is in underground aquifers and wells and roughly 0.036 percent of our fresh water supply is found in lakes and rivers. That still leaves thousands of trillions of gallons for drinking. (Source: Environmental Science, howstuffworks)

But is that enough fresh drinking water for a population which is growing exponentially? Every second, four babies are born and two people die. In the time it will take to write this article, 20,000 people will have joined the human race.

‘Peak Oil’ has been extensively written about for many years “but the real threat to our future is peak water,” wrote Lester R. Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, in the summer of 2013 in theguardian. “There are substitutes for oil, but not for water. We can produce food without oil, but not without water.”

“The concept of “peak water” and its implications for the U.S. economy are less well explored and understood.” says Dr. Peter Gleick, President of the Pacific Institute. His April 2010 paper (Peak water limits to freshwater withdrawal and use) sparked such interest that the term “peak water” was chosen by The New York Times as one of their 33 “Words of the Year” for 2010. Gleick outlines three different definitions of “peak water”:

Peak Renewable Water. Most water resources are renewable, in the form of flows of rainfall, rivers, streams, and groundwater basins that are recharged over relatively short time frames. Renewable, however, does not mean unlimited. When human demands for water from a watershed reach 100% of renewable supply, we can’t take any more, and we reach “peak renewable” limits.

For a number of major river basins, we have reached the point of peak renewable water limits, including the Colorado River in the United States. All of the water of the Colorado (indeed, more than 100% of the average flow) is already spoken for through legal agreements with the seven US states and Mexico and in a typical year river flows now often fall to zero before they reach their ends. This is true for a growing number of rivers around the world.

Peak Nonrenewable Water. In some places, water comes from stocks of water that are effectively nonrenewable, such as groundwater aquifers with very slow recharge rates or groundwater systems damaged by compaction or other physical changes in the basin. When the use of water from a groundwater aquifer far exceeds natural recharge rates, this stock of groundwater will be depleted or fall to a level where the cost of extraction exceeds the value of the water when used, very much like oil fields. Continued production of water beyond natural recharge rates will become increasingly difficult and expensive as groundwater levels drop, leading to a peak of production, followed by diminishing withdrawals and use.

This kind of unsustainable groundwater use is already occurring in the Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains of the United States, the North China plains, parts of California’s Central Valley, and numerous regions in India. In these basins, extraction may not fall to zero, but current rates of pumping cannot be maintained. Worldwide, a significant fraction of current agricultural production depends on non-renewable groundwater. This is extremely dangerous for the reliability of long-term food supplies.

Peak Ecological Water. Water supports commercial and industrial activity and human health, but it is also fundamental for animals, plants, habitats, and environmentally dependent livelihoods. By some estimates, humans already appropriate almost 50% of all renewable and accessible freshwater flows, leading to significant ecological disruptions…the term “peak ecological water” refers to the point where taking more water for human use leads to ecological disruptions greater than the value that this increased water provides to humans.

Running Out of Water

The story of “Peak Water” is increasingly coming to the forefront in 2014 as large portions of the American mid-west are suffering through the worst drought in the last hundred years. Drinking water supplies from the tap have dried up in many communities forcing authorities to provide bottled-water rations and water for bathing and home use.

Tom Philpott writes in Mother Jones that the water crisis is much worse than previously known. Homeowners and farmers are having to drill deeper wells to harvest dwindling groundwater reserves. California has declared a drought emergency and imposed mandatory restrictions on water use with the levy of heavy fines for wasting water on non-essential activities – watering lawns and driveway, washing cars. National Geographic reports that:

Groundwater supplies in our major western aquifers — the Central Valley, the southern Ogallala and now those that underlie the Colorado River Basin – are disappearing. We simply pump out more water than is being naturally replenished, and as a result, groundwater levels are falling rapidly…..The American West is running out of water. More


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

California’s New Groundwater Legislation Is Unfair. The Governor Should Sign It Anyway.

In California, the score is now: Drought 1, Farmers 0. After years of shockingly dry conditions, fallow fields, freeloading salmon, and forced livestock sales, the state’s legislature has finally taken action.

On Friday, California lawmakers approved a historic measure that would regulate groundwater for the first time in state history. California was the only Western state without controls on the amount of water taken from wells. Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the legislation later this month.

The legislation, which is really three separate bills, intends to limit overpumping by directing local agencies to construct their own "groundwater sustainability plans," with fines for violations. There are also provisions for the state to usurp local plans if they continue to result in groundwater depletions after 2025. A $7.5 billion water bond, another major effort at expanding the state’s already vast water storage and delivery infrastructure, was previously agreed upon and will be placed in front of voters on the November ballot.

The measures were passed hours before the legislative session came to a close, drawing the ire of state agricultural interests, which will likely be most affected by the new rules. The contentious final votes came not along Republican-Democratic lines but a rural-urban divide, with a bipartisan contingent from the agriculturally rich Central Valley staunchly opposed. In California, farmers use more than 80 percent of the state’s water. They’re also the most productive in the nation, leading the way in growing everythingfrom asparagus to walnuts. Farmers there deserve to get the majority of the state’s water, a resource they’ve molded into a multibillion dollar industry that feeds each of us every day. The problem is, there’s currently no real incentive to save dwindling aquifers there, as huge subsidies continue to tempt big agriculture into water-intensive crop choices. Last week’s actions by the state legislature are an attempt to change that.

Despite what essentially amounts to an unjust loss of water rights for Central Valley landowners, the bill should be celebrated. Without a legislative step of this magnitude, it’s only a matter of time before agriculture in its current form becomes impossible in California. Farmers must adapt to a future with less water, and there’s no time like the present.

Earlier this year, I wrote extensively about California water issues in a Slate series called the Thirsty West. On my drought-themed road trip, I met rancher and Tulare County Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Gavin Iacono and Central Valley almond farmer Benina Montes. This week, I spoke with both of them again by phone to gauge their initial reaction to the new regulations.

Iacono says the Central Valley has turned into an arms race of drilling for water. "It’s amazing in just my commute each day, how many well rigs I see out and around. It’s a one- to two-year wait to get a well crew in. I know people that are on a waiting list for four or five different well companies."

According to Montes, the new rules may help make things fairer. As it is currently, he says, "If you’ve got more money, you can go deeper. It’s like, ‘Great, you win.’ "

The drought has hit Iacono hard. This year, he sold his cattle herd because there was no hay left to feed them. Friends are starting to talk about leaving. "More and more, we’ve thought of it, too," he says.

He’s worried—with good reason—that the drought in California may just be getting started. New research led by Cornell University calculated up to a 50 percent chance of a 35-year megadrought later this century. Lead author Toby Ault told the university’s press office that "with ongoing climate change, [the current drought in the West] is a glimpse of things to come. It’s a preview of our future."

Said Iacono, "If that’s true, none of us will survive out here."

Still, Iacono says he has mixed feelings on the new rules. "If they limit how much [groundwater] you can use, that will dictate what crops you can grow. It’s going to lower your property value, and potentially your ability to use the land." He continued, "When you’re legislated out of something that’s been in your family for generations, it’s hard to stomach when you have other people telling you what you can and can’t do."

In the meantime, farmers like Montes are flying a bit blind. Montes pumps vast quantities of water each year for her family’s almond orchard, but has taken steps to try to be as efficient as possible, using drip irrigation and organic management methods. The new legislation should help encourage more farmers to adopt water-saving practices like these.

Montes repeated a groundwater analogy she overheard at a recent Farm Bureau meeting: "Right now we have a bank account, but you don’t really know how much is there. We can’t keep making withdrawals forever." She continued, "It’s hard, because nobody likes being told what to do, but we gotta protect it." More