TIME Water

California Is Finally Set to Get Rain, But It Won’t Quench the Drought

Parts of California could receive more rain this week than they've gotten cumulatively over the past eight months. But the state needs much more

How extreme is the drought in California? Right now the federal government says that every square mile of California is in some state of drought—and 14.62% of the state, concentrated in central California’s agricultural heartland, is in the most extreme state of exceptional drought. Rainfall in some of the most populated parts of the state have been all but nonexistent—since July 1, San Francisco has experienced just 5.85 inches of rain, about 35% of what’s normal, and Los Angeles has received just 1.2 inches of rain, less than 10% of the average over the same period of time. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada basin—the water bank for much of California—is less than half below average. By every count, California is in the grip of a truly historic drought that will cost the state and the country billions of dollars.

But there’s no better signal of how severe this year’s drought is than the fact that even a heavy rainstorm will barely make a dent in the big dry. The National Weather Service (NWS) projects that this week a pair of Pacific storms are expected to bring as much as 2 in. of rain to the coast, and several feet of snow to the Sierra Nevadas. The second state in particular is expected drench virtually all of California for 24 hours, as Jim Bagnall, a meteorologist with the NWS, told the Associated Press:

We’re not calling it a drought-buster, but it definitely will make a difference. With these few storms, we could see about an inch total in the valley. So this could obviously have some significant impact.

Still, despite the fact that Los Angeles could receive more rain this week than it has in nearly eight months cumulatively, the drought will be far from over. Even with the storm, much of California will still be below average for precipitation this month. Since February tends to be the wettest month for California, that means that the state still has a larger and larger rainfall deficit to make up if this drought is to ever end. The good news is that chances of an El Niño event this summer—which could bring heavier rainfall—are rising. But at this point it might take divine intervention to irrigate the Golden State.

(MORE: 5 Ways to Bust California’s Drought

TIME weather

Watch the Great Lakes Freeze Over

Beautiful time lapse imagery shows Lake Superior and the rest of the Great Lakes freeze over during this year's brutally cold winter


You can measure a winter in many ways: temperature records, snow cover, even travel delays. But to truly see how frigid this winter has been—at least for the eastern half of the U.S.—you need to go way up. Satellite imagery shows that an incredible 88% of the Great Lakes—Superior, Michigan, Huron, Ontario and Erie—are now frozen over. That’s the largest ice cover the Great Lakes have experienced since 1994, and it means that there is an astounding 82,940 sq. miles (214,814 sq. km) of ice covering the biggest collection of fresh water in the world.

How unusual is this? Since 1973, the average maximum ice cover extent for the Great Lakes has been just 50%, and in those four decades, the ice extent has surpassed 80% just five times. (In 2002, just 9.5% of the Great Lakes froze over during the winter, the lowest extent on record, while the greatest extent was 94.7% in 1979.) And no lake is as iced over as Superior, where the extent is 95.3%.

(MORE: Window on Infinity: Winter Pictures from Icy Space

The unusually large extent of ice is due to a logical factor: it’s been really, really cold around the Great Lakes. In the Midwest this January, temperatures averaged 5 to 10 F (3 to 6 C) below the 20th century average. But the endless snowfall around the Great Lakes region—Chicago, which borders Lake Michigan, experienced its third-snowiest January on record, and Detroit had its snowiest month ever—played a role as well, insulating the ice cover when temperatures would rise. If you’re wondering why Lake Ontario has such a smaller amount of its surface covered in ice, that’s because the lake is unusually deep, which gives it a tremendous heat storage capacity.

But numbers can only tell you so much. TIME editor Jonathan Woods has stitched together imagery provided by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab and taken from NASA’s TERRA and AQUA satellites, using data gathered by the MODIS system (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer). The time lapse imagery shows a truly stunning Lake Superior and the rest of the Great Lakes from September—when all five were open—to now, when ice covers the vast majority of the lakes. You’ll notice how early the freeze began, with ice reported in the bays and harbors of the Great Lakes as early as the end of November, as opposed to the usual time of mid-December. From that early build—due to cold temperatures in the fall and early winter in the Great Lakes—the ice just continued to grow.

For all that, 2014 could well be an aberration. Satellite data shows a generally downward trend in Great Lakes ice cover from 1972 to the present, thanks largely to the general increase in winter temperatures over the same time period. The winter of 2014 will go down in the record books—and there’s no clearer evidence of that than the image of the Great Lakes, sheathed in ice. But we may not see too many repeat performances in a warmer future.

(MORE: The Not So Sustainable Sochi Winter Olympics)

TIME Disasters

Oklahoma Shakes—Is Fracking to Blame?

Earthquakes have been linked to oil and gas disposal wells in states like Kansas
Earthquakes have been linked to oil and gas disposal wells in states like Kansas. Travis Heying—Wichita Eagle/MCT/Getty Images

A normally calm state is hit by a wave of minor earthquakes—causing some to point the finger at fracking. But wastewater disposal wells likely play a bigger role

It’s been a shaky week in Oklahoma. The Sooner State has experienced more than 150 earthquakes over the past week, far more than the Okies usually get. And while the vast majority of the quakes were fairly minor, one, on Feb. 16 measured 3.8 on the Richter scale, followed by a number of aftershocks. There’s been little damage reported, but the quakes jolted folks in a part of the country who aren’t accustomed to the Earth moving under their feet. “[It] felt like bombs going off,” central Oklahoma resident Nancy York told ABC News affiliate KOCO-TV. “It’s just a huge noise and then it’s like a reverb from that boom that just shakes the entire house.”

Something is clearly going on in Okalahoma—and has been for a while now. Residents have experienced more than 200 quakes with a magnitude of at least 3.0 since the beginning of 2009, and more than 2,600 tremors altogether during 2013. (A 3.0 magnitude quake is considered the threshold at which most people can feel shaking.) According to a recent analysis by EnergyWire, Oklahoma is now the second most seismically active state in the continental U.S., after California.

So what’s happened? Suspicion has turned to the energy sector. Oklahoma is the center of the country’s hydrocarbon industry, with tens of thousands of oil and gas wells dotting the state. Some of those wells have been drilled with the use of hydrofracking, in which explosives are used to generate cracks in a layer of shale rock thousands of feet below the surface. Millions of gallons of fracking fluid—most of which is water—are then pumped underground to keep the cracks open, allowing oil and natural gas that had been trapped in the shale rock to flow back to the surface. Surely it’s not too difficult to think that a process meant to break up the ground could end up triggering an earthquake.

(MORE: Your City Might Not Be Ready for the Next Big Quake)

But while a few studies have linked the act of fracking to minor earthquakes, there’s no definitive proof yet that fracking by itself can cause noticeable quakes. What’s more likely at fault are wastewater disposal wells. When an oil or gas well has been drilled, millions of gallons of wastewater—tainted with hydrocarbons and any number of other unhealthy contaminants—flow back up to the surface. That wastewater needs to be contained, so companies drill new wells, and inject the liquid underground at extremely high pressures. It’s entirely possible that the high water pressure used in these injection wells—and there are more than 10,000 of them in Oklahoma—may nudge previously dormant faults out of their locked position. A study published in Science last year linked unusual earthquakes in Ohio to the presence of nearby disposal wells, and other research in Oklahoma has raised similar concerns.

It’s not yet clear exactly how disposal wells might be causing or contributing to these unusual “swarms” of earthquakes. It’s possible there’s something more natural at work. Austin Holland, Oklahoma’s state seismologist, has raised the possibility that historically high water levels at Oklahoma’s Lake Arcadia may be playing a role, perhaps by placing additional stress on dormant faults. In any case, though, Oklahoma is not alone—other normally calm states like Kansas, Arkansas and Texas have experienced unusually heavy seismic activity in areas near oil and gas drilling and disposal wells. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback announced on Feb. 17 that he would appoint a committee to study what role oil and gas activity might be playing in a recent spate of minor quakes in the state. Given that oil and natural gas production is on the rise in the U.S.—and that there are more than 30,000 deep injection wells throughout the country—that’s a question that needs an answer.

(MORE: How Earthquakes Heal Themselves — and Why That’s Important)

TIME Water

California’s Farmers Need Water. Is Desalination the Answer?

California drought farms
California's farms have been hard hit by the drought Ken James—Bloomberg/Getty Images

As Obama visits drought-stricken California, new ways to create fresh water are getting a second look

President Obama will get to see California’s disastrous drought first hand today on a visit to the farming city of Fresno. It won’t be a pretty sight. While the conditions are arid across the state, with 91.6% of California in severe to exceptional drought, agricultural areas are suffering the worst.

The state’s Central Valley has long been the fruit and vegetable basket of the country, growing nearly half of U.S. produce. But farms in the valley exist only thanks to irrigation—the Central Valley alone takes up one-sixth of the irrigated land in the nation. And thanks to the drought, there’s been little rain, and irrigation has been virtually cut off. California officials have already said that they won’t be able to offer any water to farmers through the state’s canals, and the expectation is that federal reservoirs won’t be of any help either, leaving farmers to their own dwindling supplies of groundwater. The California Farm Water Coalition estimates that the drought could translate to a loss of $11 billion in annual state revenue from agriculture.

Obama will try to offer some help in his visit to Fresno, announcing that the federal government will make available up to $100 million in aid for California farmers who’ve lost livestock to the drought, as well as $15 million in aid to help farmers and ranchers implement water conservation policies. But while efficiency and conservation can go a long way to stretching dwindling supplies of water, the reality is that California is an arid state that consumes water—80% of which goes to agriculture—as if it were a wetland. If it wants to continue as the nation’s number one farming state—producing a record $44.7 billion in agriculture receipts last year—it’s going to need more water. And if scientists are right that the current drought is the worst California has faced in 500 years, and that the state could be on the brink of a prolonged dry period accentuated by climate change, that water is going to have to come from new sources.

(MORE: Hundred Years of Dry: How California’s Drought Could Get Much, Much Worse)

As it happens, California sits next to the biggest source of water in the world: the Pacific Ocean. The problem, of course, is that seawater is far too salty to drink or use for irrigation. Desalination plants can get around that, using large amounts of electricity to force seawater through a membrane filter, which removes the salt and other impurities, producing fresh water. There are already half a dozen desalination plants in California, and around 300 in the U.S., but the technology has been held back by cost and by environmental concerns. A $1 billion desalination plant capable of producing 50 million gallons of water a day is being built in the California town of Carlsbad, but San Diego will be buying water from the facility for about $2,000 per acre-foot, twice as much as the city generally pays for imported water, while producing enough water for 112,000 households. Desalination can have a major carbon footprint—the Carlsbad plant will use about 5,000 kilowatt hours of electricity to produce an acre-foot of water. And because desalination plants in general needs about 2 gallons of seawater to produce a gallon of fresh water, there’s a lot of highly salty brine left over, which has to be disposed of in the ocean, where it can pose a threat to marine life.

Still, while efficiency and conservation will always be lower cost and lower impacts solutions to any water crisis, it’s hard not to see desalination playing a bigger and bigger role in California’s efforts to deal with lingering drought. The process of desalination is improving—the Carlsbad plant uses reverse osmosis technology, which is more energy efficient and environmentally friendly than older methods —and it has the advantage of being completely drought-proof. In a world where water is more valuable and more valued, desalination can begin to make more sense.

“Desalination needs to be judged fairly against the other alternatives,” says Avshalom Felber, the CEO of IDE Technologies, an Israeli company that is helping to construct the Carlsbad plant.

(MORE: Can GM Crops Bust the Drought?)

If desalination could be powered by renewable energy, some of those environmental concerns would melt away. And that’s what a startup called WaterFX is trying to do in the parched Central Valley. While farmers in the valley generally depend on irrigated water brought in from hundreds of miles away, the land itself isn’t short of groundwater. But most of that water is far too salty for use in farming. WaterFX’s technology uses a solar thermal trough—curved mirrors that concentrate the power of the sun—to evaporate salty water. The condensate that’s later collected and cooled becomes freshwater, leaving salt and other impurities behind. “Solar stills are an old technology, but this has a new twist that makes it very efficient and very cost effective,” says Aaron Mandell, the CEO of WaterFX.

Because it uses solar power, WaterFX’s desalination has virtually no carbon footprint, and the company says that it has a 93% recovery rate, much higher than conventional desalination. But its biggest advantage might be its modularity—Water FX’s solar stills can be set up locally, allowing farms to recycle their own runoff, rather than having freshwater pumped in from afar. That saves energy and money. “You can create a closed loop where the water is reused over and over again,” says Mandell.

Right now the company is working on a pilot with the Panoche Water District in the Central Valley, producing almost 500 gallons of clean water a day. WaterFX has plans to expand to a commercial plant with a 2 million gallon capacity. Of course, the technology would have to be scaled up massively to even make a dent in California’s irrigation needs, given that the state sends billions and billions of gallons of water to farms each year. But if California really is on the edge of a great dry, every drop will help.

(MORE: Why the Drought Won’t Be Getting Better Anytime Soon — and Why This One Won’t Be the Last)

TIME Agriculture

Five Questions with DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman

DuPont has long been known as a chemical company, but Kullman is shifting the 211-year-old corporation towards innovation and agriculture

There’s never a bad time to be named CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but when Ellen Kullman took over the 211-year-old DuPont at the beginning of 2009, things could have been better. The global economy was tanking, sales were dropping and the future was hazy. Fast forward five years later, though, and DuPont is surging. Kullman has transitioned the company away from some of its traditional fields—including the performance chemicals business, best known for its nonstick frying pans and paints—and towards higher growth sectors in high-tech agriculture and nutrition. That shift has worked so far—last month DuPont announced that its fourth-quarter profits had doubled on the back of brisk sales of high-tech seeds and pesticides. I spoke recently with Kullman about the changes at one of America’s iconic companies, the global demographic shifts driving them and the big business of feeding the world’s 7 billion-plus people

TIME: You have been spinning off some business, investing in new ones. How do you see the company changing and what is driving those changes?

Kullman: I started right in the midst of the global financial crisis, so volumes were falling, and the world was not a very secure place. That gave me an opportunity to reflect on the portfolio, to reflect on how science was making a difference for us, how we were connecting to the market. We evolved to a strategy that is focused on science, and ag and nutrition, extending our advanced materials area and then really bringing to life areas like industrial biosciences that I was engaged in over a decade ago.

(MORE: Industrial Farming Slows Climate Change?)

The more I travel around the globe, the more I’m convinced that this strategy is going to lead to higher growth, higher value, greater shareholder value, because of the amount of change that is going on in the world today. We started in sustainability 20 years ago. That’s three CEOs ago. Basically then it was all about footprint reduction. You think about it now with the stressors on the world, sustainability is really important for the future of civilization, if you think about the climate, if you think about food and energy. And we think science can play a huge role in solving some of these problems, in a way that creates shareholder value. We’re much more energy efficient today than we were a decade ago, and we saved billions of dollars by not spending it on energy. But more importantly we can help airframe manufacturers lighten their vehicles or planes, and get higher efficiency out of the energy they’re using. We can help farmers utilize water much more efficiently, like through our AquaMax product, to increase yields in water stressed conditions

TIME: When it comes to ag and science and technology, and especially when it comes to biotech, you see different levels of public acceptance in different countries. How do you deal with the concern people might have for the impacts of bioscience agriculture, which is so basic to human life?

Kullman: I’m believe that countries and people make choices for themselves about what science they accept or don’t accept. And it should be fact based, so they understand [the science] and make those decisions. We as a company need to be relevant whether they choose to utilize the technology or not. I believe in the science. When you think about GMOs, I spend a lot of time on them, and I understand them. But I understand that my telling people on faith may not carry the day. They need to see it, understand it, [and we need to] arm them with facts, educate them, and let them make their choices.

We have a large business in agriculture in non-GMO seed in Europe [where GMO technology is less accepted]. We’ll be relevant there, regardless of the technology choices they make. We’ll ensure that they have the right studies and tests done to help that.

TIME: How do you deal with the differing regulation on this issue around the world, on biotech and on things like biofuel, where policy has a big impact on how the business grows?

Kullman: We are operating in an increasingly regulated world. We would certainly love to see a more harmonized regulatory environment around the world, to see that getting something approved in India is the same as getting it approved in America or China. That’s just more efficient. But I do think that we do have to participate in the process from a regulatory standpoint. We workwith different governments around the world to share information and to inform them, so when they consider laws and regulations, they do so from a standpoint of data and information that helps them make the right decision.

(MORE: Can Urban Beekeeping Stop the Beepocalypse?)
TIME: Within agriculture, you mentioned this enormous demand coming from parts of the developing world, and this yield gap, between what farms can do in Iowa versus farms in places like eastern Europe or sub-Saharan Africa. Is the aim eventually that farming in those parts of the world will come to resemble farming in America, or will there still be regional differences?

Kullman: Food is phenomenally local, and there are cultural differences that you have to comprehend. We need a common language, because people talk about this area in so many different ways. In the fall I was in an area in northeast China, above North Korea, part of the corn belt there. You drive along a road and you’re seeing an area that looks damn close to what you might find in the rolling hills [of Iowa], and then you find out the corn is all hand sown and hand harvested. That each farmer owns or gets the ability to farm a certain number of mous—about a tenth of an acre. And you go sit with a farmer or a family and you talk about farming, and they’re doing pretty well under their historic methodology in farming that is very labor intensive. But they know that has to change, and they know they need to mechanize. And that is very different there than what you’d find in India, or in Tanzania. It will always be different, but there’s a big gap that can be crossed from a productivity standpoint in agriculture that shouldn’t be lost on us. And I think it creates huge economic opportunity in places like sub-Saharan Africa, as farmers go from subsistence farming to farming with an income.

TIME: You mentioned sustainability as a big part of what you do. That word has a lot of different meaning for a lot of different people. When you say sustainability, what does it mean? Is it just efficiency or does it go beyond that?

Kullman: Sustainable means selecting for a long time, so [what you produce] can withstand the rigors of the world, while allowing the environment to continue to be plentiful and grow. I think that whole area is evolving greatly, and as the regulatory environment changes, people become concerned about how the future looks, and the part that each of us plays. There’s real opportunity. Think about cellulosic biofuels. First generation biofuels are in use, but what’s really sustainable are second or third generation biofuels that utilize plant waste and things like that. This is an area that is not just something to do to create real value for our customers and for our company going forward. We don’t have all the answers but I think there’s a lot of opportunity there.

(MORE: Can Urban Beekeeping Stop the Beepocalypse?)

TIME endangered species

Prince Charles and Prince William Condemn Wildlife Trafficking

Royals urge world to join fight against illegal trade in endangered wildlife

Every day, nearly 100 elephants in Africa meet a bloody end at the hands of poachers. The number of African elephants has fallen by 76% since 1980. They aren’t alone: poachers have thinned the once vast herds of black rhinos in Africa, leaving just 5,000 alive in the wild. These animals are being hunted to death.

But that’s only where poaching starts. Wildlife trafficking has become a global criminal enterprise, worth up to $10 billion a year and fed by the growing demand in Asia for ivory products. Money from the illegal wildlife trade goes to gangs of insurgents like al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda-backed Somali terrorist group responsible for last year’s devastating attack on a Nairobi shopping mall. Wildlife trafficking is no longer just a niche problem for conservationists. It’s something that threatens us all.

That’s why it’s so heartening to see world leaders beginning to get serious about the issue. Later this week British Prime Minister David Cameron will be hosting the highest-level conference ever on the illegal wildlife trade. In advance of the meeting, Prince Charles and Prince William took the time to record a video message urging the world to support organizations fighting to end wildlife trafficking:


Report Raises No Major Climate Objections to Keystone Pipeline, But the Choice Is Obama’s

Keystone pipeline under construction
While one section of the Keystone pipeline is under construction, it's up to President Obama to decide if the full project will go forward Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A final environmental assessment says that the oil sands pipeline won't significantly impact carbon emissions

For all the noise over the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline—which has been in limbo for years— President Barack Obama himself has been fairly clear. In a speech last June, Obama said that he would approve Keystone only if there was a “finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest, and our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” A draft environmental impact report from the State Department—which, since Keystone is an international project, is tasked with analyzing its merits—that came out in March found that the pipeline would likely not have a significant impact on the rate of extraction of the Canadian oil sands, and therefore carbon emissions, largely because State assumed that producers would find other ways to get the crude to market even if the pipeline were denied. That draft met with criticism from greens, as well as from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which suggested that carbon emissions from the oil sands crude carried by Keystone could be higher than the State Department estimated.

Now the State Department is back with its final assessment—and the results are unlikely to please environmentalists. While changes have been made in the margins, the State Department’s conclusions in a report Friday are largely the same. The Keystone XL pipeline by itself will not likely have a significant impact on the production of crude from the oil sands, therefore, greenhouse gas emissions, the report said:

The approval or denial of any one crude oil transport project, including the proposed Project, is unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.

(MORE: Pipeline Politics: Backgrounding Keystone XL)

Environmentalists were quick to denounce the report, noting that the State Department released it even as its own inspector general general is looking into allegations that the primary contractor responsible for the pipeline study has financial ties to TransCanada, the corporation looking to build Keystone. Those allegations were made by the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE), whose president Erica Pisa released a broadside against the State Department:

By letting the oil industry influence this process, Secretary [of State John Kerry] is undermining his long-established reputation as a leader in the fight against climate change. President Obama can end this charade; sufficient scientific data exists to justify denying the Keystone XL pipeline. It is a simple matter of having the political will, and courage, to stand up to the oil industry. This decision is a defining moment in his environmental legacy.

Still, the final decision on Keystone has yet to come—and ultimately it won’t be made by Secretary of State John Kerry. The environmental impact assessment is just one piece of the puzzle. The State Department assessment triggers a final review process to determine whether the pipeline is in the larger national interest. Other agencies—including the EPA—will have up to 90 days to weigh in. Only then will Obama, presumably, make his final decision. As Daniel Weiss, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told Bloomberg: “There is still a long part of the game left to be played.”

(MORE: Carbon Regulations and Keystone Silence: Previewing Obama’s Climate Speech)

It’s already been a long game. A lot has changed since Keystone was first proposed back in 2005. U.S. domestic oil production has soared, last year hitting the highest level in two decades—a fact that has weakened the case for the international pipeline. At the same, the rapid—and not always safe—growth of oil being shipped by rail in lieu of pipelines has shown just how creative the oil industry can be when it comes to moving their product. Given the overwhelming demand for oil, it’s quite possible that the State Department is right that whether or not the pipeline is built, it will have little impact on the carbon footprint of the oil sands—though that hasn’t stopped the Canadian government from lobbying hard for the project.

So that leaves the discretion of the president. In his State of the Union address, Obama aligned himself behind an “all of the above” energy policy, one that has embraced domestic oil and gas drilling even as it has worked to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency. With the notable exception of coal, the Obama administration has been less focused with limiting energy sources than in expanding them (he is, after all, the driller-in-chief). So it wouldn’t surprise me if, ultimately, the president does give the go-ahead to the pipeline. Still, the environmental movement has made Keystone its thin green line, and should Obama step over it, he risks permanently tarnishing his legacy with some of his most diehard supporters. Is 800,000 barrels a day of Canadian oil sands crude worth the price to him? That’s an answer you can’t get from any environmental impact assessment.

(MORE: Pipeline Politics: Keystone, Advocates and Analysts)


5 Ways to Bust California’s Drought

Lawns use a huge amount of water, but dry landscaping can make a big difference Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The rain isn't falling, but the Golden State has has the tools to beat the drought

They call drought the “creeping disaster,” for the way it comes over communities gradually—and for the way it unfolds, day by day, not with the drama of a storm or an earthquake, but with an ever-worsening dread. California just came off the driest year on record, and the nearly every corner of the state is gripped by severe drought. It’s so bad that within 100 days, 17 communities in California could simply run out of most essential commodity there is. Though northern California was blessed by a bit of rain this week, it will take far more than is forecast to end this drought.

More than most disasters, drought can create an atmosphere of fatalism. After all, what more is there to do than simply endure the days and weeks of dry weather, hoping for something to shift in the skies and bring back rain. But drought isn’t just about the weather. How Californians use water—or more importantly, don’t use it—will have an enormous impact on just how bad this drought becomes, and on whether the Golden State can prepare for a climate that is likely to be even hotter and drier. Here are five ways California could beat the drought.

Drip Irrigation: Agriculture in California uses about 80% of the state’s developed water supply, but without irrigation, fertile farmland like the Central Valley—which alone produces about 8% of the country’s farm product—would go barren. But much of that water isn’t used wisely, especially if it’s dispensed on crops via sprinklers or through flooding fields. But drip irrigation, which allows water to seep slowly into the roots of plants through a network of tubes and valves at the base of a plant, is far more efficient. First used widely in the arid farmland of Israel, drip irrigation greatly reduces the loss of water to evaporation—an increasing problem as California continues to warm—and to runoff. Drip irrigation is more expensive than the conventional alternatives, but with water in California getting scarcer and pricier, farmers may have little choice but to switch.

Xeriscaping: California is not a rainy place—which, of course, is half the reason most people live there. Even during a normal year, the state gets only about 22 inches of precipitation a year, near the bottom for the U.S. But you wouldn’t know that from the lush lawns that dot suburban homes from San Diego to Eureka. More than 50% of California’s residential water use occurs outdoors, and a typical lawn consumes an average of 57 in. of rain a year, according to the Association of California Water Agencies. But in a dry climate like California’s, a grass lawn won’t survive long without watering. The answer: ditch the grass. In xeriscaping, which means “dry landscaping,” homeowners replace thirsty grass with drought-tolerant native plants like wildflowers and succulents. Homeowners can even make money off the switch—the Santa Clara Valley Water District will pay homeowners $1 per sq. ft. to change their lawns.

Desalinization: As a coastal state, California isn’t short of water—it’s just short of fresh water. Desalinization technology—which converts seawater to drinkable water through a high pressure osmosis system that removes salt and other impurities—is already being used in water-stressed cities like Singapore. So it’s not surprising that California has explored the technology as well. More than a dozen desalinization plants have been proposed for California, including major systems in Carlsbad and Huntingdon Beach. But ocean desalinization isn’t cheap—about $2,000 per acre-foot, about twice as much as water tends to cost now—and it can come with environmental issues, as all that left over brine is pumped back into the ocean. There could be greener options—a California startup called WaterFX has developed desalinization technology that uses renewable energy, cleaning water through a solar still. But for now, desalinization doesn’t make much environmental or economic sense for California.

Water Recycling: Better than building massive plants to generate new water from the sea, Californians should try to get more out of the water they already have—by recycling it. The technology exists to clean and directly reuse wastewater, creating something close to a closed loop. Several years ago, water officials in southern California’s Orange County built the Groundwater Replenishment System (GRS), which takes in about 70 million gallons of wastewater a day, puts it through a multistep cleaning process, then discharges the treated water into the region’s aquifer. Some of the treated water forms a barrier against seawater, which has been infiltrating groundwater as the county has dried up. The rest actually goes to recharge the aquifers that supply drinking water to Orange County. Officially this method is called indirect potable use, but it’s really water recycling. Similar recycling plants have opened elsewhere in California, and while the reused water tends to be diverted towards non-drinking purposes like landscaping, the purification system makes it safe enough to drink. Given how valuable water is—especially in a dry state like California—recycling it makes perfect sense.

Conservation: The average home in California uses almost 200 gallons of water a day—but it doesn’t have to be that much. Something as simple as turning off the faucet when brushing teeth or shaving can save 10 gallons a day. Taking five-minute showers instead 10-minute ones can save as much as 25 gallons of water a day. And the savings are even greater if you switch to more efficient shower heads and toilets—the latter can use as much as a quarter of a household’s water. In California, water agencies usually offer rebates for switching out old, inefficient appliances. The good news is that Californians have been getting better at conservation and efficiency. Both agricultural and urban water demand in California have plateaued, even both the economy and population keep growing. And that’s a good thing—every indication is that California could be in for a very long dry spell. There’s not a drop to waste.

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