By Nathan Halverson.
The powerful storm that pounded California this week seemed like the break the state so desperately needed.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. In fact, there is probably no storm capable of washing away California’s water woes, according to scientists.
The state simply is using too much water – even during wet years. As a result, thousands of miles of prime agricultural area in the Central Valley are sinking. Roads and bridges are cracking, threatening to cause $1 billion in damage. Homeowners are watching their water supply dwindle.
“We’re taking more out than we’re putting back in,” said Michelle Sneed, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist in California. “You can’t do that forever without running out.”
This alone isn’t the drought’s fault. The state’s historically bad sinking predates the current drought by nearly a decade – maybe even longer, Sneed said.
The Central Valley’s water problems instead are caused by a monumental shift in what farmers grow and how they get their water. Over the last 15 years, lettuce and wheat fields have given way to high-profit, water-intensive crops that are mostly exported to other countries.