How Bad is California’s Drought? 

j_do_drought500x279On the first day of October, water conservation figures for California were released by the State Water Resources Control Board.

Impelled by severe drought conditions, residents have been seriously saving water in the last few months of summer. Californians cut water use by 27 percent in August, according to the Associated Press. That’s compared to August 2013, state regulators announced on Thursday, Oct. 1

The reduction was slightly less than the 31 percent decline in July, but stable with the 27 percent conservation effort made in June–still enough to meet Governor Jerry Brown’s mandatory requirements for at least 25 percent in water cuts, said the Los Angeles Times.

“The public response to hitting the conservation targets was really quite impressive,” said Lester Snow, director of the California Water Foundation, a nonprofit group that helped conduct polls. “That shows a level of engagement on water that we just normally don’t see.”

Because Californians have saved so much, water regulators have for the most part been able to avoid levying big fines on local water districts for failing to meet their conservation targets, ranging from 4 to 36 percent, compared with 2013 levels.

However, August saw a decrease in water regulations compliance compared with July. The decrease from an exactly 31.4 percent water savings in July to 26.9 (almost 27) percent was “concerning,” officials said.

About 72 percent of water suppliers met or were within 1 percentage point of their conservation standard, studies showed.

Earlier this week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that LA cut its water use 17.4 percent, compared with the same month in 2013. The amount was still good enough to eclipse the city’s 16 percent conservation target.

About 28 percent of urban water providers, however, missed their targets in August, some widely.

The worsening drought, now on its fourth year, has brought to light serious issues that could have a “snowball effect” for state residents.

For instance, this year’s lack of rain and snow hit California water supplies hard. The Sierra snowpack’s water content measured just 5 percent of normal, while the previous record low was 25 percent.

“The snowpack’s sorry condition was what differentiated 2015 from previous years,” said Felicia Marcus, chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board. “Snowpack is important because when it melts, it refills the state’s reservoirs during the hot summer months.”

Wells ran dry, Water supplies were cut, and some reservoir levels in Lake Shasta, Folsom Lake, and Lake Oroville plummeted far below normal.

According to the State Water Resources Control Board, the 2015 water year also saw the highest average temperature in 120 years of record-keeping. Data from the California Climate Tracker recorded the state’s average temperature was 58.4 degrees–over three degrees warmer than average, and almost a full degree warmer than the previous high in 1995-96.

The biggest impact of warmer temperatures, reports said, has been that they intensify the effects of drought, increasing evaporation and drying out the nutritious soil.

“The character of this drought has been to have record and near-record temperatures,” state climatologist Michael L. Anderson told the LA Times. “This drought is definitely warmer than its 20th-century counterparts. And when you run into that, you have a higher demand for water and a limited supply, so it creates greater stress.”

Extremely warm, dry weather conditions have also fueled wildfires throughout the state. In recent months, two highly destructive wildfires raged parts of Northern California. According to federal statistics, a total of 813,163 acres have burned across the whole state in 2015.

The lack of precipitation has dried out vegetation, driving fuel moisture to critically low levels.

“Four years of such parched conditions have predisposed the vegetation to be explosive, and that’s not exaggerating—it’s explosive,” said Ken Pimlott, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “The calendar year hasn’t ended yet, and it’s comparing right up there with some of the most devastating fire seasons on record.”

There is also much debate from weather experts that Southern California will have an extremely wet winter, due to a strong El Niño weather pattern. The impending storm has prompted water officials to warn people against dropping their guard on the drought.

“A wet winter could generate destructive flooding without necessarily replenishing critical aspects of the state’s water supply,” said State Water Resources Control Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus.

“Last year, the El-Niño-will-save-us stories really sank us,” Marcus said. “We are hoping for all of the rain we can safely handle. We can’t know what El Niño will bring.”

October 1st also marks the beginning of the “water year,” during which water researchers keep track of precipitation levels and storage, using the first date of the month as a starting point.

“California’s strong conservation ethic must continue,” Marcus added. “We’re all learning what we can do and what we can do without. We’re still on the ‘better-safe-than-sorry’ plan… [but] we’re happy to see that Californians are showing that they have what it takes.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *