The verdant hills lose their hue, the reservoirs recede with tub rings of newly exposed soil, the crops wither in the fields.
These are visions of the parched California landscape as the state braces for another potentially devastating drought. Water shortages and unusually dry conditions are already starting to be felt.
The state faces another hot and dry summer to come, and the governor declared a drought emergency in 41 of the state’s 58 counties. More than 37 million Californians reside in these drought areas, according to the US Drought Monitor.
“This is unprecedented,” Newsom said at a press conference announcing the first two statements in April, speaking from the bed of Lake Mendocino which had been reduced to barren, cracked clay. Not long ago he would have stood under 40 feet of water. “A lot of times we exaggerate the word historical, but it is indeed a historic moment.”
Many of the state’s reservoirs are extremely low in capacity and levels are expected to decline further in the coming months. Already, the state’s 154 large reservoirs collectively sit 71% of where they typically are on average. In their most recent report, federal climate analysts with the National Integrated Drought Information System called the prospects of recovering California reservoir levels “grim.”
Dry conditions are expected to fuel another potentially devastating and record-breaking wildfire season. In 2020, an estimated 4.1 million acres were consumed by the flames, tens of thousands of buildings burned down and 31 people lost their lives.
These conditions only started to develop in May of last year, according to federal monitoring systems. But now in a second consecutive dry year – characterized by a hot summer and little rainfall to replenish the dehydrated landscape during the winter months – by mid-May this year 93% of southwestern and California were in a drought, with 38% of the region ranked at the highest level.
“The speed with which this drought has grown and intensified is truly remarkable,” climate scientist Brian Fuchs told a webinar this week hosted by NIDIC.
Some of the hardest hit have been reservoirs in northern California, which are heavily dependent on rapidly disappearing mountain snowmelt. Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, two of the larger ones, have dropped to 44% and 39% of their total capacity respectively. The inflow into Lake Shasta is even lower than it was in 2014.
To prepare for dwindling supplies, the California Department of Water Resources reduced farmers and producers to 5% of their planned water allocation in March. The move sparked an uproar from California’s agricultural belt, which is likely to be severely affected by drought.
During the last drought, between 2014 and 2016, the agricultural industry lost an estimated $ 3.8 billion, and more than half a million acres were unable to produce due to lack of water. Farmers and pastoralists have already started cutting crops, fallowing and thinning their herds in preparation.
Authorities have also had to step in to help salmon farmed in the state’s central valley region reach the Pacific Ocean, as the waterways are too shallow and too warm for them to make the journey safely. security. Instead, tens of millions of young fish will be trucked to sites across the coast.
Drought has always played a role in California’s climate, and it is not unusual for the region to see periods of dry years interspersed with periods of wetter. But, rising temperatures are fueling deeper extremes, and climatologists believe the cycle will only intensify.
With only a short two-year reprieve since the state was declared drought-free – after the period between 2012 and 2015 became the driest four-year period on record – the negative impact of dry conditions in the The state is always fresh in the minds of residents. .
In an attempt to mitigate some of the expected impacts, Newsom allocated $ 5.1 billion over four years for water infrastructure and drought response. The state also hopes to apply key lessons learned from the last drought, including setting new standards for water use, increasing efficiency requirements, and assessing and responding to power outages. water systems. Yet, as conditions worsen, the state will continue to call on residents to adapt.
“It’s time for Californians to step up once again to save water,” California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot said in a statement released with the emergency declaration. By encouraging shorter showers and limiting water wastage during daily activities like washing dishes and brushing teeth, he added, “We must all find every opportunity to save water where we can ”.