Arizona vs. California: A Tale of Two Droughts

Arizona vs. California: A Tale of Two Droughts

Astonishingly low rainfall. Low snow levels on the mountains. Rivers at two to three percent of normal levels. And yet–plenty of water for the state’s farms, lawns and gardens. It’s not California, where Gov. Jerry Brown has warned residents to cut back on water use, and seventeen rural communities face extreme water shortages. It’s neighboring Arizona, where the state has done a superior job of developing water reservoirs for dry years.

As Brandon Loomis reports in the Arizona Republic on Sunday: “Unlike the situation in California, where water rationing may force farmers to leave land fallow, Arizona’s stored water is expected to carry the state through at least another year without shortages…Arizona has greater reservoir storage relative to its needs, and millions of acre-feet of water are socked away underground from better times on the Colorado River.”

Arizona’s reservoirs, Loomis says, are built to store multiple years of runoff. California’s reservoir system has not kept pace with its changing water needs, and Gov. Brown seems more interested in building high-speed rail than in building infrastructure to prepare for the drier climate he says is coming. Southern California has done a better job of water storage than Northern California, but some of that water may soon be diverted northward.

It is tempting, though not conclusive, to compare the two state’s political cultures and to note that California is far more focused on economic redistribution and satisfying the endless demands of its powerful unions than on planning for the future, whether environmental or financial. Arizonans also seem to understand, unlike their neighbors to the west, that the region is naturally dry and that proper water planning is essential to survival.


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