California is in big trouble. A drought, which has been escalating for years, has become one of the worst in the Golden State’s history. Aside from the inevitable brush fires, the lack of rainfall has horrific economic implications both for Californians and the rest of the country. Sill, this may seem like old news to those who first read about the drought months ago—but that’s exactly the problem. This is a situation where no news is most certainly very bad news. To get you caught up on the damage the drought has caused so far, here’s a primer on what the hell is going on with the California drought.
So, when did the drought start exactly?
It’s more like we’ve eased into it: California has faced three consecutive years of below average rainfall, culminating in a crisis of epic proportions. Things really came into perspective when California Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency this January, but it was bad many months before the announcement.
Whoa, "State of Emergency"? That sounds intense.
It is! Brown even said that it was "an unprecedented, very serious situation." The goal with the SOE announcement was to call attention to water conservation and to direct state officials to do everything they can to conserve water. Brown also urged Californians to reduce their personal water usage by 20% voluntarily, but it’s hard to imagine SoCal sunbathers draining their swimming pools.
Who is being hit the worst?
The whole state is in trouble, but Silicon Valley and Monterrey County are some of the worst off right now. According to Mashable, who quote California's weekly Drought Monitor, the small city of Montague "risks running out of drinking water by the end of summer and has requested that all outside watering be curtailed until further notice." That means people could potentially not have enough water to drink. Scary! That said, there has been a small amount of rainfall this spring, so instead of 17 counties that face the possibility of completely running out of water, there are now just three.
How do water rights work in California?
Nobody knows exactly. Or, rather, it’s just really, really complicated. According to Reuters, “There are so many agencies, in fact, that the California Department of Water Resource, which is responsible for managing and protecting the state's water, concedes that it does not even know the exact number.” When you have a government trying to allocate resources, it's a scary prospect that the state doesn't know which companies control what resources. Right Sacramento is trying to straighten everything out to get water to Californians who need it most.
How are farmers doing with all of this?
Not well. Crops are suffering and farmers are being forced to pipe in reserve water instead of the runoff they normal take from snow caps. (Snow pack this year is thin to the point of being non-existent in many places.) Everything from cantaloupes to cotton as been hurt. According to the New York Times 800,000 acres (or 7% of farmland) could remain fallow this year.
That doesn't sound good for consumers.
It sure doesn't. California grows between one-third and one-half of the country's vegetables and fruits. As a result prices are going to soar for broccoli, baby greens, almonds, and many more products. Expect to see your grocery bill go up soon (if it hasn't already).
How the drought hitting the rest of America?
While California has been hit particularly hard hit, the rest of U.S. is also suffering. One consequence felt everywhere is the a spread in massive legal conflict between governments, private companies, and the public over who gets what water. The New York Times reports that Texas, Colorado, and Arizona are just a few of states locked in endless litigation over H20. In Texas, for example, farmers are suing the state after being forced to shut down some of their pumps.
What does this have to do with climate change?
Pretty-much everything. According to Al Jazeera, forecasters and fire agencies have completely rethought the traditional mid-May to mid-October fire calendar. Fire season is officially all year long these days. “Climatology shows us we’ve been getting warmer and a little drier,” Michelle Mead, a warning coordination meteorologist in Sacramento, told Al Jazeera. “The fire season is not what it used to be 10 years ago.” That's an understatement. The fact is that more than 20 of the largest fires in California history have occurred within the last 12 years.
What should we do to help?
Water conservation is paramount—not just in California, but all over the United States. From a governmental standpoint, California has to figure out how to allocate its water resources better and improve its firefighting forces. Of course cutting emissions worldwide wouldn't hurt, but that's another story. One irony of the situation is that Brown is actually rolling back environmental protections to make it easier for farmers to gain access to the water they need.
When can California expect rain?
There's a 65% chance that El Niño, a meteorological phenomenon that brings warmer-than-usual water to Southern California, will return this August. Fortunately for California, El Niño also usually brings rain, so fingers crossed. If California can keep from burning down until then, things should get a little better by fall. Then again, considering the current conditions, that's a long time to wait.
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