Farms account for 40.8 percent of California’s water demand according to the California Water Plan (Bulletin 160-13). Farmers are often mischaracterized as using 80 percent of the state’s water supply, but that’s simply not true, based off of numbers published by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).
The largest water user in California is the environment, using 50% of developed supply. The amount of water dedicated to environmental purposes is on the rise and continues to be the largest water user in the state. At the same time, water going to farms and to meet domestic needs has declined over the past decade.
DWR lists amounts for both applied water and depletion. According to DWR depletion is water use that is an irrecoverable supply, such as water consumed through evapo-transpiration, water flowing to salt sinks (saline aquifers or the ocean), or water otherwise not available as a source of supply for other uses.
Ten years ago urban water accounted for 10.3 percent of the state’s water use, or depletion. By 2010 urban use had declined to 8.9 percent. Farms in 2004 used 43.2 percent, which declined to about 41 percent by 2010. Environmental water use (depletion) in 2004 was 46.5 percent of the supply. That’s water that was unavailable for other uses. By 2010 environmental water use actually increased to just over 50 percent of the state’s supply. That’s not surprising considering the environmental regulations, such as the salmon and Delta smelt biological opinions that came to be in the middle of this time period.
Environmental water is often mischaracterized as simply being part of California’s natural system and therefore should not be counted. That is incorrect. The State rightly accounts for all water uses including developed water set aside by laws and regulations for environmental uses. It is there because of the decisions we made to set it aside for environmental purposes. No one can argue against sound environmental water policies. It is just a matter of fact that we account for environmental water as part of the state’s overall supply.