California Suffers Driest Three Years In History
California’s punishing drought has made the last three years the driest in the state’s history, breaking a record previously set in 2013-2015. As California residents head into a fourth dry year, officials ask that residents continue to conserve water as there is no end in sight.
With tighter restrictions on the horizon, water authorities have already started targeting chronic wasters who violate rules that are already in place. In LA, some celebrities like comedian Kevin Hart, have had their properties forcibly outfitted with "flow restrictors” designed to slow the flow of water to their house after repeated violations. “It doesn’t matter who you are…all of you are being treated the same,” explained Mike McNutt, a spokesman for the Las Virgenes Water District.
CBS Los Angeles: Experts express concerns as drought conditions worsen, October 3, 2022.
NBC: Consequences Of Severe Drought And Climate Change Ripple Across California, April 28, 2022.
BBC: California 'crippling drought’ leads to strict water restrictions, June 1, 2022.
Why This Matters
As Californians give up their lawns in order to cut their personal water use, some have begun to wonder whether they are being short-changed in favor of California’s farms. Only 10% of the state’s water supply goes to cities, while 40% goes to the agricultural sector, and 50% is left in nature, to keep ecosystems, and hydropower, intact. Farmers, though, insist that they too have to make sacrifices, and have faced "unprecedented cuts,” as Steve Lyle, director of public affairs for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, told the LA Times. The state plans to cut out 9% of their current water allotment from the Colorado River from 2023 through 2026.
It may not be cities or farmers, though, that are the real losers of California’s water rationing. Even the 50% of the state’s water supply left to its rivers and lakes is a fraction of what plants and wildlife need to survive. Last year, low water levels caused rivers near Shasta Lake to become too warm for Chinook salmon. Authorities are now trucking the fish to cooler habitats.
NBC: Drought Causes California Farmers To Struggle With Crops, June 20, 2022.
NBC: Climate Change and Drought Forcing Hard Choices Across California, May 9, 2022.
NBC: Western Megadrought Shrinks The Colorado River, Bringing Multi-State Consequences, August 29, 2022.
WSJ: Why the Western Drought Will Have Major Ripple Effects, July 13, 2022.
It’s Not Just the West Waiting For Rain
Beyond California, drought at Lake Powell is forcing state officials in Arizona and New Mexico to make an impossible decision of whether to preserve water or generate hydroelectric power. 75% of the west relies on snow for freshwater, yet according to a recent study, the Sierra Nevada snowpack could disappear completely in a mere 25 years if the megadrought continues. The consequences of this unprecedented, climate change-fueled dryness -- known as "aridification” -- will likely reshape both the landscape and social fabric of the entire region.
KCRA News: What Sierra snowfall trends can tell us as CA prepares for the possibility of another dry year, October 4, 2022.
It is not just the West facing high temperatures and extreme drought. Nationwide, this past December was the hottest in history. In the Midwest, record dryness and high temperatures are plaguing farmers and their livestock. This June in Kansas, high temperatures arrived early and killed at least 2,000 cattle that had yet to shed their thick winter hair.
Desperate farmers around the country aren’t sure their businesses will survive. Cotton farmers in Texas fear the extreme politicization of climate change means their state will not take the threat seriously. Brad Randel, a Nebraska cattle rancher, has already reduced his cattle herd by 37% and fears this is only the beginning -- "if we don’t get moisture through the winter, then it’s going to be herd liquidation. We’ll have to get rid of everything,” Randel told the Washington Post.
CNBC: How The West Coast Drought Could Cause More ‘Water Wars,’ July 23, 2021
Guardian: No water, no life | Running out of water on the California-Oregon border, June 1, 2021.
NBC: Worsening Drought Forces California Farmers To Make Tough Decisions, June 9, 2021.
Adaptation Starts Now
Unsurprisingly, climate change is at fault for the drought’s unprecedented severity -- according to a recent study, human-caused warming made the record-setting dry conditions worldwide at least 20 times more likely. Co-author Maarten van Aalst emphasizes that this should be a wakeup call for the world to invest in resilience. "We have to deal with what’s already there,” he says. “Adaptation is urgent. It’s no longer a choice whether we try and avoid these problems in the future by reducing emissions.”
Pacific Institute: Briefing |The Untapped Potential of California's Urban Water Supply, March 30, 2022.
ABC 10: Pure Water Oceanside | San Diego County's first water reuse project to open, March 22, 2022.
TODAY: Colorado River Is Shrinking | What This Means For Water Supplies, August 18, 2022.
ABC: Colorado River named country’s ‘most endangered,' April 18, 2022.
DW: What happens when our water dries up? (Documentary), August 17, 2022.
The Hill: Kamala Harris WARNS wars will be fought over water, not oil, April 7, 2021.