"RIO VISTA, Calif. — Charlie Hamilton hasn’t irrigated his vineyards with water from the Sacramento River since early May, even though it flows just yards from his crop.
Nearby to the south, the industrial Bay Area city of Antioch has supplied its people with water from the San Joaquin River for just 32 days this year, compared to roughly 128 days by this time in a wet year.
They may be close by, but these two rivers, central arms of California’s water system, have become too salty to use in some places as the state’s punishing drought drags on.
In dry winters like the one California just had, less fresh water flows down from the mountains into the Sacramento River, the state’s largest. That allows saltier water from Pacific Ocean tides to push farther into the state’s main water hub, known as the Delta. It helps supply water to two-thirds of the state’s 39 million people and to farms that grow fruits and vegetables for the whole nation, playing a key but sometimes underappreciated role in the state’s economy.
A drought that scientists say is part of the U.S. West’s driest period in 1,200 years plus sea level rise are exposing the fragility of that system, forcing state water managers, cities, and farmers to look for new ways to stabilize their supply of fresh water. The Delta’s challenges offer a harbinger of the risks to come for critical water supplies elsewhere in the nation amid a changing climate."