February 12, 2016

Dry lake bed of Folsom Lake

Historic lows at Folsom Lake in Northern California. Credit: FolsomNatural / Flickr Creative Commons

While most of the Northern U.S. has been walloped by snow and rain this winter, many cities around the world have spent years facing a devastating drought. Places like Beijing, Northern India, Tokyo, and San Paolo are sitting on top of rapidly draining groundwater resources. 

In an attempt to save water, there have been campaigns to turn off the faucet while we brush our teeth. In California, Governor Jerry Brown advocated adopting a brown lawn. 

But who is making the biggest dent in water usage? Even if you turn your lawn into a rock garden, or keep a bucket in the shower to collect extra water, it’s agriculture that uses the majority of our water. In California – despite the fact that 38 million people draw on the state’s resources – agriculture still chugs down a whopping 80% of the water. 

Jay Famiglietti, a professor of Earth System Science at UC Irvine, and the Senior Water Scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says a big part of the West's water crisis is due to a lack of oversight: a burden he believes falls on the food industry

“What I mean is the lack of oversight and the lack of management. I think that the major challenges for us as a… global society will be food production. In some sense, water use in cities can be sustainable if we separate out the need to use water to grow food.” 

Indeed, cities do a very good job of conserving water, as well as adopting technologies to desalinate and do storm water capture. 

According to Famiglietti, dealing with the consequences of climate change and droughts means working together quickly in order to make effective infrastructures that improve water availability and monitor usage. 

“This is not an "us" versus "them" thing, because we love to eat, right?” He says, “We've forgotten as a society how much water it takes to grow food.”

Funding for Innovation Hub's environmental and sustainability reporting is provided by The Kendeda Fund: furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

Green, environment, Jay Famiglietti, water

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