California drought pits farmers vs. cities. But neither is the biggest water victim in California — the ocean. As the state grapples with water wars over who gets what water, it is crucial to know where all that water comes from: above the ocean and below it.
The ocean delivers about one-sixth of California’s water, which provides drinking water for more than 11 million people, wildlife and agriculture. The majority of that comes from precipitation, but California also draws water from underground aquifers and streams that feed the rivers flowing into the Pacific Ocean.
Aquifers are a finite resource. By the middle of the last century, their water could not be replenished, so they declined and the rivers that feed them declined too.
That’s why water wars are going on in California, where farmers are fighting to keep water flowing to their fields and cities are fighting to get water back to the seas.
Now both those fights are reaching a new level as the Trump administration and the state of California are making plans to try to limit water flows in California’s main rivers, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin valleys, which feed the Pacific Ocean.
Agriculture has drawn most of the ire in California. Farmers are in no mood to give up on their claims: There are more than 4 million farms and ranches in California and about $800 billion worth of agriculture in the Golden State. Farmers have had success in winning water allocations.
Cities, on the other hand, have been fighting to protect their water rights. They have lost much of their water allocations in recent years when farmers refused to agree to new contracts and the state decided to open up more water for its cities.
The state is facing a legal showdown over this water battle, with the governor’s office backing the cities’ side and the agriculture district backing the farmers’ side, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.
The struggle will pit the two largest sources of water in California — the state, the ocean and underground water — against each other. The state and the ocean have drawn water from the state to grow crops, and the ocean has drawn water from the ocean. But both the state and the