Clear and windy this afternoon on California’s north coast, another ruffled, pretty day here along the shoreline.
Not-so attractive, though, is the outlook on a way-precious commodity, water. Our statewide drought not only continues unabated, but seems to have worsened, putting California’s water supply in a bad place.
The newest snowpack survey reported water content the worse in 100 years.
(Illustration: NASA satellite image of California’s drought, early 2014, found here).
So terrible the survey — results released today — water content was just 5 percent of average in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains, and 6 percent of average in the central and southern regions, and no snow except at the highest levels. Shitty, to say the least.
Dave Rizzardo, chief snow-survey guy at the California Department of Water Resources (via LiveScience): ‘“We’re not only setting a new low; we’re completely obliterating the previous record.”‘
Good word usage, old record was 25 percent of average, set first in 1977, and then again last year.
And in the south, even worse. The Sierra Nevada mountains are frightfully dry as a bone (per USAToday):
The Lake Tahoe Basin’s snowpack Tuesday was only 3 percent of normal for the date and the Truckee River Basin’s was measured at 14 percent, far worse than the end-of-season numbers for any of the previous three drought years.
“It’s pretty bad, the worst in a century,” said Jeff Anderson, snow surveyor for the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“It not only squeaked by the record, I would say it shattered the record.
“It’s scary,” Anderson said.
As if on cue, and it was, California Gov. Jerry Brown also today laid down some strong rules toward cutting the state’s water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels: ‘“We’re in a new era; the idea of your nice little green grass getting water every day, that’s going to be a thing of the past,” Brown said.’
The governor signed a executive order upping the ante in the water war — last year, he imposed a 20 percent cut, but despite regulations, overall water use has fallen by just half that amount.
So today, in wake of the snowpack numbers, Brown adjusted the cuts upward.
The order also prohibits new homes and developments from using drinkable water for irrigation if the structures lack water-efficient drip systems — also included, school campuses, golf courses and cemeteries.
Although the new rules won’t affect California’s massive agriculture industry, there are new guidelines on reporting water usage — about 80 percent of California’s water is used by farms. In the never-ending drought, however, the handwriting is on the wall:
While the new measures spare farmers, that’s small consolation, says Chris Scheuring, a water attorney for the California Farm Bureau Federation.
“The drought long ago came crashing down on agriculture’s head,” says Scheuring, whose family farm last year got no water allocated to it by its area district.
“Looking ahead to the coming decades, water is our existential threat. The state is growing, there are more and more environmental restrictions, and there are changes to hydrology and climate.
“I’ve got a pessimistic view of things. The folks in Los Angeles likely won’t run out of water, but ag could end up in retreat.”
The farms have been sucking up groundwater, which has kept the drought-wolf from the door, but that can’t keep happening forever as these underground aquifers are being depleted, and they don’t quickly refill. California — like the whole planet — needs to make drastic moves.
That’s particularly alarming because California has faced decades-long “mega-droughts” in the very distant past, and some experts wonder whether the state might now be in the midst of another. (Scientists also think mega-droughts will be more common in the future if global warming continues.)
It all points to the need for California to drastically rethink its water habits.
“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,” wrote NASA water scientist and University of California-Irvine professor Jay Famiglietti in a widely circulated op-ed in March.
He called for “immediate mandatory water rationing.”
Just wait for it…