Murky Waters: California’s Water Management Lacks Transparency

Murmurs of ‘water wars’ can be heard throughout the media landscape, and for good reason.

Governor Jerry Brown declared California’s growing water crisis a state of emergency, mandating a reduction of 25% in household water use. And as a result, people have begun to frantically point fingers in an attempt to shuffle the blame. But before the public looks to identify a single perpetrator responsible for draining the state dry, all large water users need to be fairly weighed against each other, and the numbers closely scrutinized within context. As stated by the LA Times, “water is complicated”, and so is this California drought, especially when it bears zero resemblance to a fair and transparent investigation for a solution.

In the last few weeks Nestle has received sharp criticism for purchasing its water from Sacramento’s bottled-water plant. But Nestle’s water use is clearly a drop in the bucket; the 50 million gallons they purchase per year is a small 1 percent of the city’s total water use. And to put that in greater context, as reported by the LA Times, Americans consume 10 billion gallons of bottled water per year, where California’s total water use is 38 billion gallons per day.

So what about other commercial water users? Coincidentally, a large loophole exists in California’s public records law, allowing water agencies to decide whose water use they will or will not disclose to the public. In an obvious attempt to protect certain big businesses, we’re witnessing large commercial and industrial corporations being granted the same privacy rights as people, freed from having to reveal their water use. Coachella Valley’s recent win in court to keep the district’s largest water users confidential drives this point home. Last year, Coachella Valley Water District had the state’s highest per capita water usage.

Despite other questionable operations in the past, Nestle has so far been forthright and transparent, and in turn has requested other commercial corporations reveal their water usage as well. As pointed out by the Sacramento Bee, “if we’re going to target the biggest water users, everyone should be on the firing line.”

If the water wasn’t murky already, Gov. Jerry Brown’s 25% water cut does not apply to industrial or commercial users. Meaning agriculture, which consumes 80% of California’s water alone, has no similar restrictions, and is merely required to provide “better reporting” of water use. An article published by Vice reveals the astonishing statistics for animal and dairy production, milk requiring 30 gallons of water to produce a single glass.

With that said, singling out Nestle, Coachella Valley’s vast golf courses, agriculture’s most controversial crop, almonds, or animal factory farming is by no means going to solve the complicated situation around California’s water problems. A holistic approach is key. The first step would be to demand greater transparency by California’s water management, and to then evaluate the numbers based on how they fit into the bigger picture. “Secrecy and misinformation breed suspicion, and that only makes it more difficult to come up with smart and fair solutions.” (Sacramento Bee)

We want to hear from you. What do you think is the first step towards developing a pragmatic and long term solution for California’s drought? Email us your responses at or Tweet us at