This Drought Is Far From Over

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Jackie Isbell is a junior environmental science major.

 

When California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in 2014 in regards to the drought, it was the state’s driest four-year period in history. He demanded a 25 percent cut in water use and the conversation on water conservation quickly re-entered every Californian’s life. Drought is not new to the state but it hasn’t been drastic in the past several hundred years. For example, 2013 matched dry conditions not seen since 1580, according to a paleoclimatologist Lynn Ingram of UC Berkeley. This has been an incredibly drastic dry period for California which is a large concern because to its demanding population requiring more water than available.

Today, most of Northern California’s water scarcity has been eased in part from the recent storms. However, more than 50 percent of the state still remains under severe drought, including most parts of Southern California, especially the LA Basin and the southern Central Valley. Because of climate change and depleted groundwater levels, the problem is much bigger than a couple water shortages.

Winter storms have suddenly filled many reservoirs and boosted snowpacks across the state, which are key sources of California’s water. This even allowed the U.S. Drought Monitor to remove the label of “exceptional drought” from the state overall. But according to Nancy Vogel, a spokeswoman from the California Natural Resources Agency, the shift from extremely dry conditions to extreme rain and snowfall indicates intense climate change. This swing between the two extremes further exemplifies the impact of a resource crisis happening in our own state.

These sudden storms have acted as a quick replenishment of our water sources, only to provide a temporary relief from the constant stress we put on our local resources. The depletion of groundwater is a long term result of sustaining California’s large population of almost 40 million in drought conditions. Data posted on Californiadrought.org have shown that from 2011-2015, parts of the South Coast and Colorado River regions experienced groundwater declines of more than 100 feet. The over pumping of groundwater to supply populated areas and the state’s agriculture has left some without any local water. For example, some residents of the San Joaquin Valley are still surviving off bottled water as their main source of drinking water because their wells have dried up.

It will take years with this kind of precipitation to replenish the decimated supply of groundwater. Unfortunately, we don’t know what the upcoming seasons hold in terms of weather, so we can not rely on this resolving itself. Water-use cutbacks must remain in place to prevent future drought conditions. We should not dismiss the long term requirements needed in sustaining California’s population.

So next time you hear someone say they think California is not plagued with drought anymore, remember this is not something that one rainy season can fix. By thinking ahead and conserving the as much water as possible, we put ourselves in the best standing for the ongoing water crisis.

1 COMMENT

  1. Water is a precious resource in a desert and being from Southern California that is exactly what I live in. Through human ingenuity we have been able to transform that desert into a great oasis. We have become spoiled thinking that there is an endless supply of water and not having to worry about where it comes from.
    If the has taught us anything it is that water as a resource is not unlimited and that we should not waste water and we should adopt strategies other desert communities employ to conserve water. That is what the drought has taught us.

    The great rains of 2016 and 2017 are now here. Our rainfall to date is nearly double of our historical average. The snow pack is far larger than we have seen in decades. But as we are seeing all too often, our ability to capture rain water and snow melt is woefully inadequate to handle the deluge we have experienced this winter. Our storage facilities are over taxed and all over the state reservoirs have been forced to release billions of gallons of water into the ocean simply because we have no way to capture and manage it.
    Think of a guy walking through the desert and suddenly a down pour begins. He gleefully opens his mouth to drink in the water falling onto his tongue. He is so happy that is life has been spared. After a few minutes the rain stops and he quickly dries out and after a few hours he becomes thirsty again. As he begins to suffer once again he thinks to himself “If I only had a canteen”….

    You see its not just about serving more people with fewer resources. Its also about building the infrastructure necessary to take full advantage of opportunities like the winter of 2016-2017. This is a problem that California could solve for its people and become a model for the world to show how we can manage our most precious resource while respecting the planet.

    The State Department of Water Resources website is mostly a history lesson on what was done in the 1960’s to manage and deliver water and very little or nothing on planned improvements. For example the last ground water recharge project was funded by the state in 2005??? This tells me we are continuing and will continue to do nothing about significantly expanding our water storage and delivery infrastructure and sadly we will be someday again be standing out in the middle of the desert in a rainstorm without a canteen.

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