Water: California cities, agriculture compete for precious, dwindling resource

Draw a tall cool glass of water from the tap anywhere in this county, and you'll be drinking water that came out of the ground.

For cities and farms alike, most water comes from one source -- wells. Much of the water Merced County uses comes from a common groundwater basin pumped by thousands of wells that, for the last 30 years, have been sucking down that resource.

The communal depletion has taken a toll on the basin. In some areas of the county, wells are drying up.

For most of the county's history, each year the bucket of water the county drinks from has been replenished with every winter's rains. But a complex nexus of growth, drought and failure to plan may be changing the calculus of water use in California and Merced County.

Ever-expanding cities in Merced County -- still minor users in the broader picture -- are increasingly competing for water with farmers and the environment. This urban-rural-ecological division wouldn't be as much of an issue if climate change wasn't bearing down on the age-old weather pattern people have come to expect.

Less rain in the future will mean less water for more people, crops and local ecosystems.In preparation for this looming shift, state and federal authorities are trying to lessen the effects of both climate change and its human causes.

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