Water is the lifeblood of California. It provides for the household needs of 40 million people. It generates electricity and cools power plants. It supports one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world and various commercial and industrial activities, ultimately fueling the fifth largest economy in the world. Water is also critical to the health and viability of the state’s diverse aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
This paper examines statewide urban and agricultural water-use trends from 1960 to 2015 using data from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR). We find that California has experienced a dramatic decoupling between water use and growth. Since 1967, California’s population has doubled, and its economic output has increased by a factor of five. Yet statewide water use increased by only 20 percent over this period due to improvements in urban and agricultural efficiency, as well as a shift to higher-value crops and less water-intensive commercial and industrial activities.
Despite positive signs, water use in California remains high. Across the state, rivers and streams are under stress from overuse, and groundwater is over-tapped. Climate change and continued growth are increasing pressure on the state’s water resources, including on water supply, demand, and quality. To address these challenges, we must continue and even expand efforts to improve the water-use efficiency of our homes, businesses, industries, and farms. Moreover, we urge the state to improve data collection and online systems to make data more easily, quickly, and readily available.