FarmPolicy

November 19, 2019

California Drought- Problems Persist

Discouraging news regarding the ongoing California drought continues to persist.

Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech, and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine, penned a sobering column this week on California water issues in the Los Angeles Times.

Dr. Famiglietti indicated that, “As our ‘wet’ season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.”

Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.

As difficult as it may be to face, the simple fact is that California is running out of water — and the problem started before our current drought. NASA data reveal that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002, when satellite-based monitoring began, although groundwater depletion has been going on since the early 20th century,” Dr. Famiglietti said.

The LA Times column stated that, “Right now the state has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs, and our strategic backup supply, groundwater, is rapidly disappearing. California has no contingency plan for a persistent drought like this one (let alone a 20-plus-year mega-drought), except, apparently, staying in emergency mode and praying for rain.

In short, we have no paddle to navigate this crisis.”

The column went on to outline potential policies that could be implemented to deal with the current situation.

To view a brief Weather Channel video on the California winter snow pack, just click here.

And drought is also having an impact on Washington state.

Maria L. La Ganga reported in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times that, “‘What we’re experiencing is essentially a snowpack drought,’ Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology, told reporters Friday. ‘As of this very moment, the projected snowpack is 4% of normal in the Olympic Mountains.’

“In the Central Cascades, snowpack is 8% to 45% of normal, and in the Walla Walla area, it’s 67% of normal. The long-range forecast calls for drier, warmer weather, Bellon said, and ‘conditions are expected to get worse.’

“A statewide drought has not been declared in Washington since 2005, but the perilous snow levels mean other parts of the state are being monitored in case the emergency declaration must be broadened.”

The article pointed out that, “To get ready for a long, hot summer, officials have requested $9 million in drought relief funds from the state Legislature and are prepared to make temporary changes to water rights so that crops and fish have an adequate water supply.”

And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently indicated that, “The continued availability of irrigation for crops and landscaping is also vulnerable to climate change, particularly in the Southwest where irrigation accounts for the highest volume of water used. Projected increases in temperature and potential evapotranspiration, accompanied by decreases in soil moisture, will challenge this already-dry area with increased demand for water. Demand for water will also grow with population, as people migrate to Sun Belt states for better weather.”

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