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How CA water habits need to change to avoid a dystopian desert future

A scene from
A scene from "Mad Max: Fury Road."
Jasin Boland

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Twenty-five years from now, California will be hotter, drier and more populous.

That means our relationship with water will change, but if your picture of the California of 2040 is some sort of post-apocalyptic, 'Mad Max'-style dystopian desert, water experts say that's a bit of a leap.

"California has a lot of water," says Heather Cooley, co-director of the Water Program at the Pacific Institute. "It's really about how we manage it and how we use it. I think we have tremendous opportunity to be using water more efficiently in our cities, on our farms, in our homes and our businesses across the board."

So how do our water habits need to change so that we use it more effectively?

Mark Gold, with UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, says that top on the list has to be using local water supplies more efficiently.

In urban areas like Los Angeles, Gold says, that means "really valuing every drop of water" and focusing on things like storm water capture and water recycling. 

These kinds of transitions are moving closer from talk to actual implementation, Gold says, "but this sort of transformation of infrastructure in a big way is going to take that 25 years to happen."

Something else that will need to change within the next 25 years, is doing a better job of knowing our day-to-day water use in both urban and agricultural areas. Right now, Gold says, we're pretty horrible at it. 

"Think about it," in L.A., "you get your water bill once every two months. You're trying to conserve, the Governor's saying we gotta cut back 25 percent, and you're only getting that reinforcement once every two months. That's ridiculous. We need to get real-time water meters all over the place."

Farms need to do a better job of keeping track of their water use as well, Heather Cooley says, and they already are making some significant changes. "We're seeing more and more farmers adopt drip irrigation. They're using weather and other scientific information to determine when to irrigate and how much to irrigate. We're undoubtedly going to see more of that."

What won't work, though, is keeping on the same course that California has been on in the past.

"We're already seeing difficulties with groundwater management in some of our main agricultural areas and along our coasts," Cooley says, "If we don't change our ways, those will only get worse."

To hear the full interview with Heather Cooley and Mark Gold, click the link above.