The Alarming Nature of the California Drought
The California drought has reached historic levels. Sure, we hear on the news every once in a while about a drought in certain areas of the country, but it’s quickly brushed under the rug when the next news cycle comes along. This one is different. This is one of the worst droughts in the state’s history. How bad is the drought? Well, we’ll get into the thick of it, but to start it off: For the first time in California’s history, Governor Jerry Brown announced mandatory water cuts and restrictions.
To announce mandatory water cuts means that the situation in California is not just severe, or extreme, it’s exceptional. In fact, 98% of the state is going through a drought, with 44% of it an exceptional drought:
California going through a drought each year is pretty much normal, but this one has been a catastrophe. I live in Michigan (look above and you’ll see no water problem), so the only time there’s a problem with water near where I live is if a water main breaks and I have to boil water so I don’t get sick. But in California, the past three years have been the driest on record, which is why Gov. Brown issued the restrictions to have cities and towns cut their water use by 25%. If people complain so much about going over their cellular data plan, imagine having to cut back on water. Cutting back on the essential liquid that brings life to this planet is unthinkable, but the entire state has to abide by it.
What’s even scarier is that the LA Times reported that California’s reservoirs only have about a year of water left. The reservoirs have historically been the main source of fresh water — contributed from water that remains on the Earth’s surface, rivers, streams, and lakes — and the reservoirs are at an all time low. A year of water left after three of the driest years in the state’s history adds to the worries of California citizens. Just have a look at this gallery from 2011-2014. I suspect it’s even worse off at present:
It looks as if someone poked a hole through the crust of the Earth and the water is quickly leaking out. Not only are the reservoirs running out, but the groundwater is being drained, too. It’s not too difficult to understand why the groundwater is drying up. Groundwater is what collects in the ground after it rains, and it collects into huge underground aquifers.
Think of the groundwater as your savings account, and the reservoirs being the cash on hand/money in your checking account. The checking account is close to being overdrawn, and you’ll soon have to dig into your savings. The problem that California is having is that they have to keep taking from both accounts. It’s similar to the problem with the oil companies running out of places to find oil. They resort to digging under the ocean crust to find new sources of oil since they sucked all the land dry. Like the oil drillers, the farmers — which account for 80% of fresh water use for crops — have to dig even deeper to get to groundwater aquifers that have existed untouched for thousands of years. It’s no wonder that the ground is sinking.
Such water is not just old. It’s prehistoric. It is older than the earliest pyramids on the Nile, older than the world’s oldest tree, the bristlecone pine. It was swirling down rivers and streams 15,000 to 20,000 years ago when humans were crossing the Bering Strait from Asia.
Tapping such water is more than a scientific curiosity. It is one more sign that some parts of California are living beyond nature’s means, with implications that could ripple into the next century and beyond as climate change turns the region warmer and robs moisture from the sky.
“What I see going on is a future disaster. You are removing water that’s been there a long, long time. And it will probably take a long time to replace it. We are mining water that cannot be readily replaced,” said Vance Kennedy, a 91-year-old retired research hydrologist in the Central Valley. (Via Revealnews)
In the past, groundwater made up for about 40% of the fresh water usage in California, but now it’s up to 65% and may even go up to 75% this year. If the drought continues on like this for the next few years, what is California going to do when they have run out of fresh water? There are some solutions and ideas that have been put forth.
The state will have to start reducing its usage off water on non-essential things as quickly as possible. If you thought watching The Brady Bunch run around on their fake plastic green grass in their backyard was funny, it might not be a joke anymore. It might be the reality in the next few years.
Earlier today, I was riffing back and forth with head honcho of Social Underground in Los Angeles. He mentioned that they were having major thunderstorms due to tropical storm DOLORES moving in — much needed storms, obviously. The drought is so bad that in Beverly Hills, they’re literally, not figuratively, letting the grass die. You’d think that it would be an unwanted blemish to let that happen, but it’s the right move to conserve water.
Another source the state gets its fresh water from is Lake Mead. If you know where Lake Mead is (Mohave County, Arizona and Clark County, Nevada), think the Hoover Dam. That’s Lake Mead behind the massive dam. Let’s take a look at how its water levels have looked over the past few years:
Doesn’t look that bad — until you compare to 1983:
California is making sizeable withdrawals from the reservoir. Lake Mead also provides fresh water to Nevada, Arizona and northern Mexico. As the drought worsens for California and the rest of the Western states, there have even been ideas floating around to tap into the world’s biggest freshwater supply — the Great Lakes.
Don’t think the idea of a raid on Great Lakes water is that far-fetched. Plans were in the works to allow a Canadian company to sell Lake Superior water to Asia via tanker ships as recently as 1998. A coal company in 1981 wanted to pipe Superior water to Wyoming to move its semi-liquefied product back to the Midwest. And in 1982, Congress mandated that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study the feasibility of using Great Lakes water to replenish supplies needed for the heavily agricultural Plains states. (It wasn’t feasible.) (Via Detroit Free Press)
“It wasn’t feasible.” That’s just a pipe to Wyoming. Imagine an even bigger one from Lake Superior to Lake Mead! It’s not such an easy task fill a reservoir that could help California, as NASA states:
“It will take about 11 trillion gallons of water (42 cubic kilometers) — around 1.5 times the maximum volume of the largest U.S. reservoir — to recover from California’s continuing drought, according to a new analysis of NASA satellite data.”
Increased warming, lack of rain, and lack of melting snow runoff will only mean that the groundwater and reservoirs will further evaporate from existence. We’ll have to see what happens in the next few months, but it’s not looking to good as three years have passed, and 2014 being Earth’s hottest year on record.
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