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Will California's Drought Ever End?


California is in yet another drought. with climate change, this has become a recurring feature in the western United States. The most recent drought was between 2012- 2016. Currently, the estimated population in California under drought is 37,244,299. 63.55% of them are either under extreme or exceptional drought while 97.41% are under severe drought.



What does extreme or exceptional drought mean?

The drought information comes from the U.S. Drought Monitor at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is classified into different levels. Exceptional or extreme drought is the most intense level of drought.


The last time we saw such a drought of this magnitude was when Charlemagne was reigning in the Holy Roman empire says 'NBC Bay area'. 79 million people live in the western United States and they depend on pipes, canals, waterways, and aqueducts to bring them water miles away.

The California Aqueduct carries water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. To cross the Tehachapis Mountains into Southern California, a huge amount of water is lifted some 2,000 feet at the A.D. Edmonston Pumping Plant higher than anywhere else in the world.



Drought is caused by a lack of precipitation and less snowpack which leads to less water in the rivers and reservoirs (Pic Left: Department of water resources conducting a snow survey in the Sierras). High temperatures due to climate change dry the rivers faster. According to the US EPA Lake Oroville and Lake Shastha, two of the largest reservoirs in the state were at 37% and 42% of their capacity. Lake Oroville provides water to 27 million Californians.


California leads the country as the largest producer of agricultural products and ranks 10th in the world (source: USDA ERS). It produces two-thirds of the nation's fruits and nuts. About one-quarter of what California produces is exported around the world. California is also the leading producer of vegetables. 99 percent of artichokes, 99 percent of walnuts, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic, 89 percent of cauliflower, 71 percent of spinach, and 69 percent of carrots (and the list goes on and on)(source: slate.com).

In California right now fields are left unplanted; orchards are removed; vegetable and fruit yields are low. This, in turn, affects livestock that would need supplemental feed or are sold away. Dairy operations are being closed. During extreme drought, federal water is inadequate to meet irrigation contracts; extracting supplemental groundwater is expensive.


Drought also affects wildfires which last year-round and spread faster and further. During a drought, grasses and trees can dry out and become more flammable much faster increasing the rate of transmission with a high probability of ignition.


Low river levels impede fish migration and cause lower survival rates. In an effort save the state’s chinook salmon population, state and federal fish hatcheries in Northern California are spawning millions of additional salmon smolts in order to increase their odds of survival. (Right: Coleman National Fish Hatchery in Anderson, California)


How is California dealing with its drought? An average person in CA uses 77 gallons per day and the state water usage was up 19% in June. Governor Newsom ordered water suppliers across California to step up their local drought responses. The goal is to cut back 15%. Almost all of the water districts across the state have imposed restrictions including 10 - 15% cutbacks, restricting lawn watering to only 1 or 2 times a week. Fines up to $500 if homeowners exceed water use.


What can you do as an individual or homeowner to conserve water?

Begin with shortening your showers. Do not water your lawn. The idea is to have brown lawns. There are exceptions to the new rules, however, that are meant to protect the region’s trees, which provide valuable shade and help stave off dangerous heat, says Adel Hagekhalil, the MWD’s general manager (source: LA Times)

S

tart reusing grey water. Remember grey water does not need to travel miles to reach your home. Try our water challenge Water Challenges | Grey Water Project (thegreywaterproject.org)


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