California Drought

As California faces devastating drought the U.S. state’s governor Gavin Newsom has asked people and businesses to voluntarily cut their water use by 15%. The western U.S. weathers a devastating drought.

Reservoirs across California, which are depended on for agriculture, drinking water and fish habitat, have dwindled to dangerously low levels and some counties have already enacted mandatory water restrictions. Agriculture and tourism could be severely impacted, and wildfires are likely to rage this summer. Agriculture is a roughly $50 billion business in California, and the severe drought could hamper the industry for years to come.

Some of the state’s most important reservoirs are at dangerously low levels. Lake Oroville in northern California is at 30% capacity, and state officials worry water levels could get so low they might have to shut down a hydroelectric plant later this year. Along the Russian River, officials fear Lake Mendocino could empty later this year.

Heat waves are sending temperatures into the triple digits. As another heat wave arrives, the Central Valley could see temperatures as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit, while Southern California, where this boat became beached, could reach 117 degrees.

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Once-lush palm trees are now brown and shriveled. Boats sit on dry land. Waterways that were formerly deep and flowing have been reduced to puddles of toxic residue.

This is the landscape in parts of California, which is experiencing a historic mega-drought that is expected to strain the state’s electrical grid and dry up water supplies – water levels are 50% lower than normal at more than 1,500 reservoirs statewide, Jay Lund, codirector of the Center for Watershed Sciences at University of California, Davis, told Morning Brew. Given that 25% of the nation’s food is grown in California, extreme droughts could decimate crops like avocados and almonds.

The situation demonstrates the growing challenges of a drought that will only worsen throughout the summer and fall and is tied to recent heatwaves.

Temperatures in parts of the state are spiking this week but are less intense than the record heatwave that may have caused hundreds of deaths in the Pacific north-west and British Columbia a week ago.

California’s Democratic governor is asking for voluntary water conservation, which would include actions such as taking shorter showers, running dishwashers only when they are full and reducing the frequency of watering lawns.

“Given how low the reservoirs are going to be at the start of next year, the governor wanted to issue the voluntary call in the event that next year is also dry,” said Karla Nemeth, the director of the California department of water resources. “The voluntary conservation is as much about planning for a dry next year as anything.”

Newsom also added nine counties to an emergency drought proclamation that now covers 50 of the state’s 58 counties.

Large cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, are not included under the emergency proclamation. But Newsom is still asking those who live in heavily populated areas to reduce their water consumption because they rely on rivers and reservoirs in drought-stricken areas for much of their supply.

A historic drought tied to the climate crisis is gripping the U.S. west and comes just a few years after California declared an end to its last dry spell in 2016. The earlier drought in California depleted groundwater supplies and changed how people use water, with many ripping out landscaping and replacing it with more drought-tolerant plants.

Compared with before the previous drought, urban water usage in California is down an average of 16%. But scientists say this drought is already hotter and drier than the previous drought, accelerating the impact on people and the environment.

Some local water agencies have already implemented mandatory water restrictions.
Counties added to the state’s emergency proclamation include Inyo, Marin, Mono, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz. The affected counties make up 42% of the state’s population.

Shriveling Vegetation

The drought has made is harder for ranchers to supply water to their livestock, the state’s boating industry is taking a hit, and tourism, which supports roughly 2 million jobs in California, could be severely impacted by the dangerous heat waves.

As of Friday, more than 85% of the state was classified as being in “extreme drought,” according to the National Integrated Drought Information System, and experts say this is only the beginning: The dry conditions make California even more susceptible to deadly wildfires, which burned more than 4 million acres last year.

“This current drought is potentially on track to become the worst that we’ve seen in at least 1,200 years. And the reason is linked directly to human-caused climate change,” Kathleen Johnson, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California, Irvine, told The Guardian.

Dropping water levels have forced houseboat owners to remove their vessels from the water. These boats are anchored in Laka Oroville, the second-largest reservoir in the state, which is at less than 40% of its normal capacity.

The canal in Salton City, California, is almost completely evaporated, leaving being only toxic residue. Salmon that typically swim in rivers and canals like this one between California’s Central Valley and the Pacific Ocean have had to be transported to the ocean via truck as those waterways become shallower and shallower.

These heat waves are occurring more often, starting earlier, and continuing later into the year now than they did in the 1960s, according to Environmental Protection Agency records. At the Salton Sea, docks sit on dry land, hundreds of feet from the water.

The extra-dry, extra-hot conditions are obliterating vegetation like these palm trees, and taxing power grids. As temperatures rise, people tend to turn up air conditioning units, increasing the potential for rolling blackouts.

The conditions mean this year’s wildfire season could surpass the record-breaking devastation of 2020. “Much of the western United States will continue the trend of hot and dry weather, much like the summer of 2020,” Brandon Buckingham, a meteorologist at AccuWeather, recently told Insider. “Each and every western heat wave throughout the summer will only heighten wildfire risks.”

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