A record number of water wells in California have gone dry as climate change amplifies heat and drought in the parched state. Residents reported having 1,394 dry wells statewide from January through last month, an increase of nearly 40 percent from the same time last year. It’s the highest number since the start of record keeping in 2013.
For almost four decades, water flowed faithfully from Fred and Robin Imfeld’s private well here in rural Tehama County, a region where thirsty orchards of walnuts, almonds, plums and olives stretch across thousands of acres. But that reliable supply of household water began to sputter last year, and then ceased completely this summer amid California’s driest three-year period on record.
In a move that activists hope could shift how water regulators statewide manage dwindling groundwater basins, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors this week banned the drilling of all new wells for six months countywide while they draft a set of longer-lasting rules on using groundwater.
With most of the state gripped by extreme dryness, some conditions are better, some worse, than the last record-breaking drought. Over-pumping of wells hasn’t stopped. But urban residents haven’t lapsed back into water-wasting lifestyles. “We are in worse shape than we were before the last drought, and we are going to be in even worse shape after this one,” said Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at University of California at Davis.
If our water supply is dwindling, why is Arizona still growing?
I get this question almost every time I write about groundwater. Readers say we should be doing a lot more to slow – or even cut off – the construction of new homes and farms.
That’s not likely to happen any time soon. But smart people are diving into the weeds of how we use this finite resource to fuel growth, and that makes me cautiously optimistic.