As the title of Clare Foran’s recent article in the National Journal suggests, things are getting rough in California as water becomes a more and more precious resource. In “Drought is Taking California Back to the Wild, Wild West,” Foran writes about a local veterinarian in Los Gatos who noticed “the water filling the tanks outside her office “was disappearing at an alarming rate.” The vet, Mary Madden checked for leaks and when she found none, it dawned on her: Someone was stealing her water.
Madden installed security cameras and put put locks on the tanks. “She even strung a chain across her driveway to keep out unwanted visitors. The theft stopped after the locks went on. But Madden never caught the thief. . . .”
But she’s not alone. “Water theft,” Foran writes, “has become increasingly common in California as the state suffers through its worst drought on record.” While there’s no reliable tracking of much water has been stolen, law authorities are stepping up investigations. Unfortunately, there is little than can do other than issue fines, and those aren’t costly enough to stop anyone when water is in such demand.
Of course, residents are taking things into their own hands, and here is where the problems will begin. As I’ve written elsewhere, as climate change results in more severe droughts and storms, resources like water and food will be less and less available. Prices for those resources will go up as supplies shrink, and as we seen now in California, people will begin stealing these resources for use and for profit. Next people will fight to protect their resources, and we’ll see battles over resources. People will be injured, and eventually will begin to kill to get what they don’t have and to protect what they do have.
This has happened before, and it will happen again. By most estimates, the west will run dry by 2050. That water wars are beginning now in CA is not much of a surprise. We’ll begin finding them throughout the west soon enough.