Three years later, California drought continues with no relief in sight

This story was originally published by The Guardian and appears here as part of the climatic desk collaboration.

California has seen its three driest years on record and the drought shows no signs of abating, officials said Monday. The dry spell set the stage for catastrophic wildfires and has depleted water resources and caused conflicts over use.

“We’re actively planning for another dry year,” said Jeanine Jones, drought manager for the state department of water resources, who discussed the state of California at the end of its hydrological year, which ended Sept. 30.

This hydrological year saw record rainfall in October and the driest January-March period in at least a century. Even these deluges, which at times produced flooding and debris flows, were not enough to combat the state’s drought. Drought-stricken landscapes do better with gentle rains than tidal surges, and it will take more than a few winter storms to improve California’s water shortage.

Driven by the climate crisis, which will make dry conditions worse and lead to stronger storms, this whiplash is likely to become more common as the planet warms, scientists say.

Temperature spikes exacerbate and intensify drought conditions, removing moisture from landscapes at the same time that plants, animals, and people require more moisture to adapt to hot conditions. In the meantime, the La Niña weather phenomenonA pattern characterized by ocean surface temperatures that can cause increased heat and reduced rainfall is also expected to occur for the third year in a row, raising the potential for less precipitation.

Another dry year would mean little or no delivery of water from state supplies to Southern California cities beyond what is needed for drinking and bathing. Farmers who rely on state and federal supplies would also see minimal water during another dry year, putting even more pressure on groundwater supplies often used as backup to keep crops alive.

Farmers in the Sacramento Valley had a particularly rough year, state officials said. About 600 square miles (1,554 square kilometers) of farmland, including many rice fields, were left fallow in the valley this year, according to the Northern California Water Association and the California Rice Commission.

But snowfall is of more concern, as the dust that collects on mountaintops during the winter months serves as a sort of savings account when the state runs low. As the snow slowly melts, it runs off into streams, rivers and reservoirs, providing a third of California’s annual water supply. The Colorado River, another major water source for Southern California, is also affected by drought, threatening its ability to supply farmers and cities in the western US.

Snow levels last year were well below average at the end of winter, and officials are concerned that a third year of dry conditions will only further deplete resources. State officials expect the trend to continue, saying they expect California’s water supply to decline by 10 percent over the next two decades.

Despite some rain, the state is still experiencing extreme water shortages caused by the climate crisis, and La Niña may make it worse. #ClimateCrisis #Drought #California

Rainfall was 76 percent of average for the year just ended, and the state’s reservoirs are at 69 percent of their historic levels, state officials said. Hydrological year 2022 was slightly cooler and wetter than the previous year, although not enough to change the trajectory of the drought, officials said.

Most of the state is experiencing severe or extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The worst conditions are found throughout the Central Valley, the state’s agricultural heartland where many of the world’s fruits, vegetables and nuts are grown. country.

Gavin Newsom in August touted recycling and desalination as ways to shore up the state’s supply. The Governor of California also has he went on to urge the state’s 39 million residents to save water by tearing up their lawns or browning them, taking shorter showers, and generally being more water-conscious. In the summer of 2021, it asked people to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15% from 2020 levels, though the state is far from meeting that goal.

Californians did it cut its water use in August by 10.5 percent, water officials said Monday. But collectively, water savings statewide are down just four percent since Newsom made the request for him.

There are signs that the state and its residents are learning better how to deal with ongoing dry spells, said Jeff Mount, a senior fellow at the Center for Water Policy at the Public Policy Institute of California. “We’re no longer fighting about whether things are changing, we’re having reasonable fights about how to adapt,” Mount said. But, he added, now is the time for the administration to outline a clear set of priorities that will help the state conserve more water.

There are already communities, especially less affluent areas in California’s Central Valley where residents are predominantly people of color, where the wells have run dry. Jones said people who live in cities and rely on major water providers shouldn’t worry about water reliability, but water may start to cost more as providers build recycling plants or other new infrastructure to shore up water. the supply.

“We encourage people to learn and understand where their community’s water supply comes from,” Jones said, “and what it will take to improve it in the future.”

— The Associated Press contributed reporting

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