Californians were in for a shock. In April, for the first time, they were ordered to reduce urban water use by 25 percent to help deal with the state’s ongoing drought. “It’s a different world,” Governor Jerry Brown said when announcing the restrictions. “We have to act differently.”
It was a tall order, but cities and towns across the Golden State stepped up to the challenge. Thanks to conservation measures, including possible penalties, they exceeded the mandate and cut their combined use by 27.3 percent.
Still, despite a reduction in urban water consumption, farmers are having to dig deeper for water as the drought continues into its fourth year. The water shortage is driving them to adopt new, more efficient technologies and practices.
Some are investing in different kinds of irrigation systems. Farmers in central California, for example, joined with their local water agency to build a wastewater treatment plant that recycles wastewater and pumps it to farm fields.
Elsewhere in the state, farmers are switching to crops that require less water. In an interview with National Public Radio, Eric Larson of the San Diego County Farm Bureau pointed to dragonfruit — which “uses very, very little water” — as one alternative to water-thirsty crops.
California’s water problems could grow more severe if rain does not arrive later this year. That is why farmers, business leaders and officials are looking for innovative, long-term solutions, from nanotechnology to big data and precision farming. In January, NASA launched a satellite designed to study soil moisture and help farmers better manage crops.