California has completed its wet season without much relief from current drought conditions that are expected to continue.
The water shortage in California just got worse; now NASA is on the case.
Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, published an op-ed in the Los Angeles times March 12 in which he noted the state has only one year of water reserves remaining in its reservoirs, and there is no relief in sight from the weather pattern projections.
On March 17, the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento said it would consider sweeping mandates on landscape irrigation that could limit water usage for most California homes and businesses to only a few days a week. Local water agencies would be required to choose the days for rationing the supply.
Recent state data showed that water usage in California had dropped just 8.8 percent since January 2013, when Governor Jerry Brown issued a request that usage drop by 20 percent.
Thanks to the prolonged drought, and believed to be acerbated by climate change, California has lost approximately 12 million acre-feet of stored water every year for the past three years. The volume of combined water sources of snow, rivers, reservoirs, soil water and groundwater in the northern Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins are 34 million acre-feet below normal levels by the end of 2014, and there is no expectation that conditions are going to make matters better.
“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,’’ Famiglietti said. “January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows.
“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,’’ he said.
In February, NASA scientists joined with researchers at Cornell University and Columbia University and noted that California is expected to have a “remarkably drier future”. Other Western states were included in the assessment. They suggested there will be “megadroughts”, between 2050 and 2099 and each drought could last more than 10 years.
Famiglietti called for an “immediate mandatory water rationing” with more rigorous monitoring of groundwater, with limited extraction for agriculture.
The call for water rationing has two problems. Much of California’s gross domestic product is based on agriculture, and any significant water rationing “could completely destroy every kind of plant out here except maybe a cactus,’’ said Missions Springs Water district administrative officer John Soulliere to the Desert Sun newspaper.
Also, there is no way presently to police water rationing. Most water districts, of which there are dozens in the state, have limited or no “water cops’’ to monitor usage. There are also many low-income communities that grow their own food, requiring water, while many high-income communities have shown little interest in restricting their water usage.
Some state officials believe water districts should come up with their own enforceable water usage restrictions. But everyone involved seems to know that something has to happen as soon as possible to restrict the loss of what has become a finite resource.
“We are not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we are losing the creek, too,’’ said Famiglietti.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.