The Science & Politics Behind the Game - Groundwater
Groundwater - Living off of an inheritance.
Although California is in its 3rd year of drought, the impact has not been too severe yet. To make up for the lack of rain, more groundwater is being pumped. Normally, 30-40% of water comes from groundwater, right now, that number is around 60%.
Although groundwater gets replenished when it rains, and can also be recharged by pumping in treated wastewater, the current rate of consumption far exceeds the rate of replenishment. In these circumstances, pumping groundwater is like pumping oil - it's basically a nonrenewable resource unless one is looking at timelines of thousands or millions of years.
California actually sinking into the ocean.
In some places the groundwater level is dropping at rates of over 10' per year, making pumping increasingly expensive. Worse still, the removal of water also causes the land to sink. Some parts of the Central Valley sank 28 feet in the 20th century, and are continuing to drop at rates of 1" to 12" per year. This ground subsidence is often uneven, and can cause canals to leak and damage roads and other infrastructure. Parts of the Valley are already only a few feet above sea level, and sinking land increases future climate change risk from sea level rise.
An interactive map of groundwater levels and land subsidence in California are available from the Department of Water Resources at this link.
Groundwater management is finally on the way.
Hard to believe as it is, it wasn't until this year that legislation was finally passed to regulate groundwater pumping. Under the new legislation, agencies have a few years to come up with a plan to get groundwater usage to a sustainable level... by 2040. While this is a long way off, if groundwater pumping were to stop now, many taps would dry up as there's no alternate water source available yet for many regions.
Groundwater in the game
The game puts you in the same situation that real lawmakers and water agency employees face: while the current pattern of groundwater use is unsustainable in the long term, in the short term, it's an essential band-aid for getting through the drought until conservation and water reuse can be ramped up.