In a new study just published by the journal Sustainability Science (Springer), analysis from the Pacific Institute shows that many of the fundamental responses of California water users to severe drought actually make the state's overall water conditions worse -- that in the end, many of these actions are "maladaptations."
Water is a complex resource; and water problems are an equally complex mix of natural resource, technology, social, economic and political conditions. When water is limited, such as in water-short areas or during extreme events such as droughts, society puts in place a variety of responses. The Institute evaluated the major responses to water scarcity during multi-year droughts -- in particular the recent 2007-2009 drought -- by the energy and agricultural sectors. (A follow-up analysis of the current drought is in preparation.)
There is also evidence of resiliency and adaptation to drought. But many of the actions taken in recent years have actually increased the vulnerability of other systems, especially California's aquatic ecosystems and disadvantaged social groups that rely on those ecosystems for their health or employment. Equally, or more important, some of the responses provided short-term benefits at the expense of future generations, by drawing down groundwater reserves and by increasing the production of greenhouse gases that worsen the risks of climate changes.