Who Is To Blame For California’s Drought?

Not who you think.

With the worst drought in California history raging on, and Gov. Jerry Brown ordering the state to cut its water usage by 25%, the inevitable question arises: Who’s at fault? Who’s sucking the state’s severely limited water supply dry?


The New York Times breaks down how much water different parts of California are using in this straightforward interactive visualization. Each water district is represented with a circle, sized and colored to indicate the number of gallons used per capita each day in California’s 400 water districts. The hotter the color, the more water that district is using.

See the full graphic

It’s easy to find trends on the map, but it’s harder to pin down their causes. Northern California, particularly in the winter, uses much less water than other regions. That’s in part because temperatures are lower in Northern California compared with the more arid southern regions. It’s also because, as the Times points out, conservation efforts in the North have effectively lowered consumption.

Though the farmers of the Central Valley use their share of water, the biggest offenders don’t come from where you’d expect. Those lie in Palm Springs and Coachella Valley, where wealthy L.A. retirees settle onto huge properties in the desert, and have been so far unwilling to cut back on watering their lawns and golf courses. Large properties in gated communities near San Diego also use an unequal share of water. In both of those regions, the per capita usage is about 230 gallons a day in the winter, and considerably more in the summer. Compare that to the northern cities of San Francisco and Santa Cruz, where the per capita usage is about 46 gallons a day.

With Gov. Brown’s new mandate, all of these areas will have to reduce their water consumption significantly over the next year. Restrictions vary from one region to the next; water rates will go up in some areas where people consume too much water and be relaxed in areas where people conserve water. There will also be restrictions on watering golf courses, cemeteries, and publicly maintained land like highway dividers. These steps are necessary to save California from catastrophe, Brown says. “People should realize we are in a new era,” he said at a press conference Wednesday. “The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”

[via The New York Times]


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