By Charles Scholtz
This January, California received what it has been waiting five years for. The exceptionally thirsty state has been in the midst of a drought, which has led to a three year (and counting) state of emergency and a call to reduce the state’s water consumption by over twenty-five percent.[i] The effects of this drought have been felt throughout the state, as well as the country. Farmers are scrambling to do what they can as their lands dry out; in 2015 alone, the drought cost California farmers an estimated $2.7 billion.[ii] Meanwhile, trees are dying at an alarming rate. As estimated by the National Forest Service, there are over 100 million dead trees in California’s forests.[iii] For an environment that is prone to wildfires, this is a disaster waiting to happen.
Fortunately, relief has come in the form of snow and rain, and a lot of it. In January alone, the state received 5.7 trillion gallons of water in the form of precipitation, brought on by atmospheric rivers formed in the Pacific.[iv] January’s snowfall alone represents over 120% of the state’s annual average. Fortunately, the impact of this precipitation has already been realized.[v] According to statistics released by the United States Drought Monitor, only 1.87% of California is experiencing an extreme or exceptional drought, compared to 63.9% just one year before. It would appear that California’s five year drought is definitively over, but unfortunately, it is not..[vi] State officials must remain vigilant in reducing their consumption. In fact, California is only a third of the way to overcoming its precipitation deficit.[vii] Without surface water brought by precipitation, California had to rely on water pumped from the ground.[viii] So, although the snowpack is well above its historical average and things appear to be improving, it is what cannot be seen that is the cause for concern. Not allowing groundwater to replenish, will expose California’s ecosystem to even greater risk. This means further challenges for farmers and growing piles of tinder in the state’s forests.
Further complicating the issue is the public’s desire to consume more water without recognizing the limited nature of the state’s resources. As population booms, there is only so much that can be done to meet society’s ensuing demands. Pulling water from other places can help and is no doubt necessary at times, but it can only help up to a certain extent. Eventually something has to give, and this is a clear example of that. In order to ensure a viable future, the state needs to become more adept at dealing with the resources it has, not the resources it expects or hopes to have. Exercising the restraint and proactive conservation necessary to continue to reduce consumption will certainly not be easy, but it is up to the state’s agencies to make unpopular decisions when they are so clearly in everyone’s best interest.
[i] Justin Worland, There’s So Much Snow in California That It’s Helping the Drought, Time (Feb. 02, 2017), http://time.com/4658727/california-drought-storms-snowpack.
[ii] Dale Kasler, Drought costs California farms $600 million, but impact eases, Sacramento Bee (Aug. 15, 2016), http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article95771347.html.
[iii] Thomas Curwen, The 102 million dead trees in California’s forests are turning tree cutters into millionaires, L.A. Times (Dec. 14, 2016), http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-sierra-tree-mortality-20161129-story.html.
[iv] Jason Samenow, It snowed 5.7 trillion gallons of water in California this January, Wash. Post (Jan. 30, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/capital-weather-gang/wp/2017/01/30/it-snowed-570-trillion-gallons-of-water-in-california-this-january/?utm_term=.ee2cc8e7822a.
[vii] Samenow, supra note iv.