Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Extreme drought conditions in California - a possible indicator of climate change?

“We never know the worth of water ‘til the well is dry.”
- Thomas Fuller

A chart released by the National Drought Mitigation Center,
illustrates how dry the soil is compared to the historical average:
 the darker the color, the drier the soil is relative to average.

I have often thought I would like to return to my native state someday, having fond memories of a childhood spent in the Bay Area.   Actually I have, years ago to attend graduate school at CAL Berkeley and again with my husband and kids as they entered their teens, not an ideal time for a move. But alas, when we visit California today it is not the California of my youth, with it's rapid population growth and exorbitant cost of living.  And now yet another consideration when pondering the possibility spending our golden years there, a worsening water shortage, with varying degrees of severity depending upon where different localities source their water.  Certainly something to consider when contmeplating relocation to the "Golden State".

California is facing what could be its worst drought in four decades. Nearly 90 percent of California is suffering from severe or extreme drought. A statewide survey shows the current snow pack hovering below 20 percent of the average for this time of year.

For the past 13 months, a huge ridge of high-pressure in the atmosphere has sat off the West Coast, blocking storms that normally would bring rain during winter months.

California's population has shot to 38 million people today, compared with 22 million during the last record-breaking drought in 1977. Meanwhile, the state's farms increased their revenue to $45 billion from $9.6 billion over the same time period, magnifying the potential consequences of the current drought.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency Last Friday, asking for a voluntary 20 percent reduction in water use by the public, businesses and government agencies. Californians can expect:
-- Water conservation programs will be implemented around the state encouraging limits on watering of gardens, washing cars, showering and other discretionary uses.
--With already conservative numbers of cattle in their herds, ranchers will consider culling their herds to stay afloat as production costs rise.
-- With close to 65 percent of cropland relying on irrigation, many farmers will have to choose between pumping more local groundwater, changing crops or leaving their land fallow as water availability decreases and prices increase. Farmers will sacrifice lower-value annual crops like cotton and tomatoes in order to preserve almonds, grapes and other profitable plants that grow on vines and trees.
-- Hydroelectric power generation will decrease, forcing California to use more expensive fuels, but also encouraging other sources of electricity, like solar and wind power.
-- The fisheries along the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta will suffer as water is siphoned away to meet the needs of urban and agricultural interests.
-- Groundwater levels will sink and the ground will subsist further in the San Joaquin Valley as more and more water is sucked from the aquifer into wells.
-- Wildfires could increase in frequency and intensity across the state as the fire season lengthens.
In a move that will likely signal higher food prices nationally, a federal agency says California’s drought-stricken Central Valley,hundreds of thousands of acres of the most productive farmland in the U.S., won’t get any irrigation water this summer.  Last weeks’s announcement by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation follows an earlier warning of no irrigation deliveries from the California State Water Project, leaving Central Valley farms and cities with only wells and stored water to get through the worst drought since the state began keeping records in the 1800s.

As the climate changes, California is losing snow pack, with more precipitation coming as rain. Ultimately a variety of changes will be needed, such as recycling of waste water, groundwater recharge (water during wet years through is moved into groundwater), capturing, storing and treating storm water, and improved efficiencies in agriculture. Among recent innovative practices, Los Angeles offers rebates for water-efficient appliances, as well as a "Cash for Grass" rebate -- raised last April from $1.50 to $2 per square foot -- for people who replace their grass lawns with native plants, mulch or other dry landscaping.

The drought’s effects will ripple far beyond the fields in California, since California grows half of America's produce. Out of over 400 different foods California grows for our Nation, California leads production for 79 of them. Out of these 79, California grows ALL of 14 crops (in bold).  Consumers can expect tighter supplies and higher prices for some fruits and vegetables by summer.

Those of us outside of California, may well find increasing impetus to GROW LOCAL.

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