A week ago, The New York Times published an article that said California’s drought is inciting a water Civil War. On one side are affluent property owners who don’t want to let their big yards and gardens dry up and who can afford to pay even hefty fines to keep the sprinklers running. On the other side are less well-off homeowners who can’t afford to pay increased water rates or fines—so they’re letting their small plots of vegetable gardens and lawn die.

It’s not a pretty picture. And it’s not a new one. In California and in much of the West, water is the ultimate limited commodity—the factor that determines where we can live and how we can make a living. No wonder it sparks arguments. In the West, Mark Twain said, “whisky is for drinking and water is for fighting.” (Actually, this is one of those Twain quotes nobody can prove he actually said. But I like to think he did.) In 2015 and beyond the West’s biggest challenge—by far—is going to be figuring out how to allocate this limited resource in a way that’s fair to everybody.

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