PRICING. As several readers have pointed out, antiquated water prices and billing systems shield us us from the realities of California's historic drought. We need something like the 'baseline usage' found on many local utility bills. If users have a basic allocation, they can decide how how to get more out of their 'water budgets.' A tiered pricing system would encourage conservation. In Southern California, approaches like this have had a major impact. In the Irvine area, a pioneer of tiered pricing, household water use has declined by 61% over the last 13 years.
RECYCLING. Why talk about this in the abstract when countries like Israel can show us how? The Negev desert, not so different from California's Imperial Valley, keeps the country in fruits and vegetables by dramatically stretching a meager water supply. Israel recycles 80% of all municipal sewage. Within a few years, treated wastewater will supply half of the country's agriculture. In the US, we currently recycle a bit more than 2% of municipal waste. Israel, by the way, is a major agricultural exporter.
SNOWPACK. The Sierras' annual snowfall keeps melting earlier. Farmers used to rely on the spring runoff to fill reservoirs evenly through June and July. An earlier snowmelt means longer dry seasons and reduced water for agriculture. I had always assumed global warming was the lone culprit. But perhaps not. Climate scientists in California have noted that while summers are noticeably hotter, there hasn't been all that much winter warming. There has been a major rise in particulates. This includes the hydrocarbon soot that dirties my glasses, plus agricultural dust. Particulates falling on the Sierras may be darkening the snow's surface enough to absorb more sun energy and speed the melt. Reducing diesel truck pollution and encouraging conservation tillage statewide might help.