This year may prove to be even drier for California than 2013, which was the driest on record since 1849 – the first year the state kept track. More than 60% of the state is in extreme drought conditions and there is no relief in sight.
Where are the water supply shortfalls?
- The Sierra Nevada mountains snow pack is between 10 and 30 percent of expected amount.
- Two of the state’s lakes are only 36 percent full.
- San Luis Reservoir in Central Valley is down to 30 percent of normal.
Even recent showers haven’t helped enough. It will take an additional three feet of precipitation to end the drought in California.
State of Emergency Declared.
Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, asking citizens to cut water usage by 20 percent and requiring state agencies to conserve as well.
“We can’t make it rain,” said Brown, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires in both urban and rural areas. I’ve declared this emergency and I’m calling all Californians to conserve water in every way possible.”
President Obama traveled to California to announce his proposed billion dollar “climate resilience fund. ” Unfortunately, this year’s drought is estimated to cost California be as much as $5 billion.
Record Number of Wildfires.
Residents are evacuated as homes and businesses – including nearby vineyards – are threatened by the flames. Nearly 500 wildfires have broken out in Southern California in 2014; last year at this time, only two had been reported.
Not only are millions of gallons of already scarce water consumed by fire control, but it also affects water quality. Runoff contains large amounts of sediment and contaminants that can render water undrinkable.
Impact on Farming.
California is one of the nation’s most important agricultural states, so reduced crop yields impact the entire country:
- More than half a million farming acres may lie fallow this planting season, as farmers are unable to water crops. This could cost more than $2 billion in losses.
- Farmers must choose between watering existing drops like almond and cherry trees or planting annual crops like tomatoes and lettuce.
- Resulting lower crop yields will increase food prices across the country.
- Unemployment among farm workers could be as high as 50 percent in some Central Valley towns.
- The state has banned fishing in several rivers to protect reduced fish populations.
- Calves are being sold at half their usual weight because grazing areas are so heavily depleted.
No relief is in sight for farmers and residents. Many blame the drought on climate change, which could mean many years of drought still to come.
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