With recent downpour, the California drought falls
February 14, 2017 • 160 views
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From 2011 to 2015, California experienced its longest drought in recorded history, moving the California state government’s rating of the drought from moderate to an unprecedented “Exceptional Drought” according to the United States Drought Monitor. The implications of this extended dry spell have reached far beyond the state’s borders, considering the impact California has on world produce totals. At the apparent end of this phenomenon, the future of the state’s water supply remains uncertain.
Though over by all metric standards with the recent torrents of the 2016-2017 winter, the drought’s long-term effects are still relevant. Precipitation during the 2016-2017 winter was more than enough to lift the state out of a drought state, at least temporarily. Seven feet of snow fell in the Sierra Nevadas in just two days at the beginning of January. San Francisco saw more rain between January 1 and January 18 than it had for the entirety of 2014, according to the California Data Exchange Center. The Environmental Protection agency reports that snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas is nearly 170 percent of its average size. The long answer is more complicated: taken in isolation, 2016 and 2017 would not be considered drought years by most standards, but heightened rainfall in recent weeks has not erased the bone-dry years of the first half of the 2010s. Climate and rainfall in California vary drastically from place to place; snow in the Sierra Nevadas does not necessarily correlate to a bolstered water supply in Los Angeles. Over one-fourth of the state has been lifted out of the drought, but California’s water problems may be far from over.
At Urban, some see the end of the drought as an opportunity to use water more liberally. “One thing I’ve noticed recently is that with the rain, people are like ‘oh, now I can take a long shower or bath,’”observed Clara Miller (‘18). “That’s not how it works.”
Experts tend to agree with Miller: “Droughts are like recessions. Recovery from a recession doesn’t happen overnight; recovery from a drought doesn’t happen overnight,” said Max Gomburg of the California Water Resources Control Board. Until we have levels of rainfall on a more consistent basis over an extended period of time, local and state governments are hard-pressed to declare victory over the drought.
Water conservation is still recommended by the California Water Resources Control Board as of January 18, if not urgently necessary at the moment. Snowpacks in the high Sierra Nevada mountains may not last through the spring and summer, and the more water we have available in the event of our next drought, the better.
And future droughts seem highly likely, according to climate scientists and state officials. “Just about every year since 2000 has been warmer than the preceding year,” said Doug Carlson, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources. “So this is where global warming is really seen in our data here in California,” Carlson added. Climate change’s correlation with levels of rainfall is well-documented: the Environmental Protection Agency reports that the hottest years on record also tend to be the driest. Even with a healthier snowpack this winter than in recent years, unusual warmth as a result of climate change causes that snow to quickly melt back into the ground by summertime.
Whether a rainy 2016-2017 winter is a brief respite from an increasingly arid climate or a sign of genuine progress against climate change, remaining cautious around water usage is still necessary according to students such as Miller as well as the California government. In Miller’s words, “we live in California… we always need to conserve and be aware of water, regardless of whether there’s rain or not.”