Water scarcity: a California Ag challenge

By Chatura Saravanan

Thu, 26 Jul 2018

The state of California has recorded a history of water scarcity in the past few centuries, however due to global warming and the growing population, this issue is growing out of control. In this article, water scarcity in California will be explored, from its causes, to possible solutions, and to how agriculture is affected.

While Californians have been encouraged to reduce their day-to-day use of water, and have improved the efficiency of its use, if rain and snow does not fall, the situation will not get better. Moreover, most of the water capacity is used for farming, thus it is imperative for farmers to accommodate to the situation.

Considering that the state is a huge agricultural supplier it is not minor that is constantly dealing with this specific problematic.

Why is there water scarcity in California?

California’s lakes and streams are crucially dependent on the melting snow packs of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. Lately, the continuous drought, and higher than expected temperatures are leading to a deficiency of snow formed in the mountain ranges, and thus, creating less water supply. Moreover, the aging water infrastructure the east-coastal state possesses is proven to be insufficient to satisfy the almost 40 million inhabitants.

While California frequently uses groundwater and aquifers to make up for the shortage in water supply, the rate at which these sources are being exploited is excessive and eventually will be completely utilised.

In this line, irrigation has proven to be one the key methods to keep up with the water challenge. California’s soil was originally declared as barren and the farmers who started with irrigation in the early 1920s used to use groundwater and flowing rivers, but neither were a stable source of water. The Dust Bowl droughts that came about a decade later saw the rise in interest for the practice. Drip irrigation is the most common method used since the 1970s, however water scarcity is an issue to date.

Irrigation now and tomorrow

Overhead irrigation is becoming a popular choice of irrigation in California, and even though it uses water far more efficiently, only 40% of the farms employ it, and the rest utilise drip irrigation, according to Weiser from article ‘California: Catching up with the irrigation world’ published 2016, in News Deeply.

This is partially because overhead irrigation is an upcoming system and there is a common misconception that it cannot keep up with the water transpiration. Another issue is that farmers in California grow a diverse variety of crops and each type of them requires a different type of irrigation. For example, tomato crops do not tend to do well when using overhead irrigation, therefore, it is difficult to change irrigation systems without considering how it can affect the crops.

Owing to efficiency, a reduced manual labour to install it, and a straightforward way to operate it, overhead irrigation has become a more popular option.

Efficiency of water systems can be determined by the uniformity factor and the overhead and drip irrigation systems are similar in this regard. It is important to remember that the type of irrigation used must be chosen carefully based on the capacity of the soil and the crop type.

Whether the choice is to use drip or overhead irrigation, the soil capacity must be understood to prevent any flooding of crops or any drought, however, overhead irrigation has proven to lower the water demand for crops and represents a great potential for farmers in the coming years.

A challenge often faced in irrigation is runoff. If crops are placed on a slope, the water does not hold in the soil. A way of dealing with this is using check valves as they maintain the water in lateral lines, preventing runoffs.

Furthermore, it is important to educate end users on the efficiency of different irrigation systems as the cost tends to be the deciding factor when choosing one. In this line, it is important to acknowledge that utilising a more efficient, but slightly more expensive system can produce long term benefits while helping reduce water demand.

“In theory, cities cannot run out of water. All we can do is run out of cheap water, or not have as much water as we need when we really want it.” – Barton Thompson, Co-Director of Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment.

To address these challenges, we have developed AG40 workshop, a programme designed around bringing key stakeholders from throughout US agriculture together to tackle the most issues in relation to the stability of the market. To find out how this will be achieved, and whether you can be involved in this, follow the link here and below:



Challenge Advisory is bringing together AG40, a unique workshop where organisations will have the ability to network amongst each other for precise and profitable resolutions across the entire industry. There will be panel discussions and workshop sessions designed to create partnerships and profitable business development, helping to find cross-specialism solutions to current sectoral challenges.

Join Challenge Advisory and all our stakeholders for education, interoperability and investment relating to the latest technology in digital agriculture – click here to find out more:


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Chatura Saravanan


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