California has made it through the summer energy crisis that never happened, and state officials say it also will be a fall without rolling blackouts.

California water users can only hope it will be that easy when the next drought comes. Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition told the recent Western Cotton Conference in Fresno, Calif., that California's next drought will me much more painful than any electricity crisis. New generating plants are popping up all over California to meet the demand for electricity for the state's 34 million people. The solution will not be that easy to bring the state's water supply system — designed to meet the needs of 20 million people — up to today's demand.

“California is not ready for the next drought,” Wade said. “It is going to take a lot longer to solve the state's water crisis that it is taking to solve the energy crisis.”

The California Farm Water Coalition was formed in the wake of the last drought when agriculture was castigated for its water use. The coalition has developed a very good Farm Water Works campaign to help Californians understand how important agricultural water use is to the lives of all Californians.

This is being done with the now familiar “California Water Works” signs strung along the sides of old cotton trailers parked beside California's major highways. Trucks are now carrying the message and educational messages are on public transportation from Malibu to Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay Area.

The coalition has aired radio messages during Water Awareness month and has worked with the California Cling Peach Board and the California Women for Agriculture to produce peach recipes in grocery stores that also contain information about what California farmers are doing to conserve water.

There is a permanent exhibit at Six Flags Marine World in Vallejo through a partnership with several Solano County water agencies. A “Farm Water Jeopardy” game travels to farmers markets, country fairs and other events to dispel myths about water on the farm. There's also theater advertising and curriculum material for schools.

California's average rainfall is about 23 inches per year and that equates to about 200-million acre-feet of water over California's land surface. The coalition is pointing out that at least 65 percent and as much as 81 percent of that is environmentally beneficial through evaporation and transpiration of trees and other vegetation and aquatic benefits.

Agriculture water use is also environmentally beneficial and farmers are not the water waster portrayed by the mass media and environmental radicals. Wade is confident the message is getting out and will soften the criticism agriculture is sure to receive when the next drought hits.

That's the public relations side of the water crisis coming. What about the solutions? They are still a long way off, but Wade said the two most likely sources of new surface water are increasing the sizes of Shasta and Millerton lakes by raising the existing dams.

Groundwater banking is another source of “new” water. This involves storing underground surplus water during wet years for use during dry years in exchange for limited surface water supplies during dry years by urban users.

Water banking is nothing new, but it is becoming a more viable option by many as the next drought approaches and environmental uses take increasingly more of the available supply.

Wade said however, that the state Department of Water Resources is beginning to look at these groundwater banking arrangements with the same regulatory glare as new surface reservoirs. That is not good news because with that comes all the wildlife and environmental impact hurdles now associated with building new dams.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com