The Fruits of Civilization (71-18) California Going Dry

 California Going Dry

California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought except praying for rain. ~ James Famiglietti

California has a history of severe droughts. In the 21st century (to 2019), California has had 2 such dry spells: 2007–2009 and 2012–2015. The latest drought was the state’s driest period in past 1,200 years.

Every year since 2011, the state had pumped 15 km3 of water out of its main aquifers. As a result, the ground sunk 30 cm a year in some places.

We know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence. This is the new normal, and we’ll have to learn to cope with it. ~ California Governor Jerry Brown

In April 2014, the Governor issued an executive order that reduced resident potable water use 24%. The edict did not apply to agriculture, which sucks down 40% of the state’s water. Communities consume only 5% of the state’s water.

There are folks who have been conserving for decades. There are other communities who are using hundreds of gallons per capita per day. ~ Felicia Marcus, head of the California state water resources control board

By 2015, California was down to its last year of above-groundwater reserves. Then El Niño brought storms that besotted politicians more than wet the parched land.

In May 2016, with 90% of the state still facing drought, mandatory water conservation was scotched in favor of letting communities decide how much they wanted to gulp down.

Water conditions at the end of the day are local. ~ Jeff Kightlinger, head of southern California water management

However local water “conditions” may be, California’s water supply is a shared, precious resource. The Golden State consumes 5.4 km3 of the Colorado River every year; by contract, the lion’s share of 7 states thirsting for the river’s water, which is over-allocated.

The Colorado River is unable to satisfy all the demands on it, so it is referred to as a ‘deficit’ river, as if the river were somehow at fault for its overuse. ~ American environmentalist Marc Reisner

In the winter of 2016–2017, California received a deluge of water, granting a temporary reprieve from its prolonged drought. An atmospheric river poured down, creating floods and mudslides. By that time, the state had lost over 100 million trees and many millions of fish to lack of rain.

With the crisis past for the moment, California did next-to-nothing to prepare for a water-parched future, which is practically guaranteed. As the Arctic loses sea ice, it will change air convection currents over the tropical Pacific. These convection changes will drive the formation of an atmospheric ridge in the north Pacific, drying out California.

The recent California drought appears to be a good illustration of what the sea-ice driven precipitation decline could look like. ~ Serbian climatologist Ivana Cvijanovic in 2017

While the heavy rains of late 2016 brought a respite from drought, they also created a conflagrant consequence: raging wildfires. The winter precipitation provoked vegetation growth. California then had one of its hottest, driest summers ever. Withered plants became combustible fuel. Fires raged throughout the state, though the most intense ones were in southern California. The economic damage was compounded by having built residences among wooded areas.

By 2018, hot and dry conditions had returned to California. Water supply continued to diminish.