Jackie Isbell is a junior environmental science major.
When California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in 2014 in regards to the drought, it was the state’s driest four-year period in history. He demanded a 25 percent cut in water use and the conversation on water conservation quickly re-entered every Californian’s life. Drought is not new to the state but it hasn’t been drastic in the past several hundred years. For example, 2013 matched dry conditions not seen since 1580, according to a paleoclimatologist Lynn Ingram of UC Berkeley. This has been an incredibly drastic dry period for California which is a large concern because to its demanding population requiring more water than available.
Today, most of Northern California’s water scarcity has been eased in part from the recent storms. However, more than 50 percent of the state still remains under severe drought, including most parts of Southern California, especially the LA Basin and the southern Central Valley. Because of climate change and depleted groundwater levels, the problem is much bigger than a couple water shortages.
Winter storms have suddenly filled many reservoirs and boosted snowpacks across the state, which are key sources of California’s water. This even allowed the U.S. Drought Monitor to remove the label of “exceptional drought” from the state overall. But according to Nancy Vogel, a spokeswoman from the California Natural Resources Agency, the shift from extremely dry conditions to extreme rain and snowfall indicates intense climate change. This swing between the two extremes further exemplifies the impact of a resource crisis happening in our own state.
These sudden storms have acted as a quick replenishment of our water sources, only to provide a temporary relief from the constant stress we put on our local resources. The depletion of groundwater is a long term result of sustaining California’s large population of almost 40 million in drought conditions. Data posted on Californiadrought.org have shown that from 2011-2015, parts of the South Coast and Colorado River regions experienced groundwater declines of more than 100 feet. The over pumping of groundwater to supply populated areas and the state’s agriculture has left some without any local water. For example, some residents of the San Joaquin Valley are still surviving off bottled water as their main source of drinking water because their wells have dried up.
It will take years with this kind of precipitation to replenish the decimated supply of groundwater. Unfortunately, we don’t know what the upcoming seasons hold in terms of weather, so we can not rely on this resolving itself. Water-use cutbacks must remain in place to prevent future drought conditions. We should not dismiss the long term requirements needed in sustaining California’s population.
So next time you hear someone say they think California is not plagued with drought anymore, remember this is not something that one rainy season can fix. By thinking ahead and conserving the as much water as possible, we put ourselves in the best standing for the ongoing water crisis.