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Laws on Water Saving and Solutions for Ameliorating Droughts in California, Throughout History

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“The drought currently encompasses over 98% of the state of California” (Chuck 2015)

Almost the entire state of California is suffeing from drought issues, however, “more than 44% of California is in “exceptional” drought — the worst level of drought” (Rice 2015). This means that the problems affecting people are not limited to just farmers or those living in major urban areas; this drought affects everyone within the state. This has made all of California’s residents resort to making water saving laws like not watering our lawns or washing our cars at home. Also, in trying to keep our current water rich lifestyle,we have lost a lot of money creating these water heavy products while we try to save our dwindling water supplies.

“The diminished hydropower capacity of California’s dams cost electricity customers a total of $1.4 billion in the past three years” (Tweed 2015).

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The issues caused by the drought in California are not limited to water issues, they are economic issues as well. The rampant use of water is used to keep the economy stable by growing an “appropriate” amount of food and taking care of our water needs is costing us money. We must spend money to trying to save water and even in our dams and reservoirs where we generate energy, the lack of water is hurting us and forces us to spend more money to keep our standards of living.

“The current drought cost the (farming) sector an estimated $2.2 billion last year” (Schiavennza 2015).

The greatest amount of water usage in the world is spent on agriculture and that is especially prevalent in California. We devote a massive amount of our land to farming in a climate that is not suited for it. Top keep up with our food needs we produce a massive amount of foods like beef and nuts which are highly water intensive. We must spend billions attempting to to keep our diets they way they are because they require so much water to accomplish.

“It will take about 11 trillion gallons of water (42 cubic kilometers) — around 1.5 times the maximum volume of the largest U.S. reservoir — to recover from California’s continuing drought, according to a new analysis of NASA satellite data”(NASA 2014).

This drought is too severe to be fixed by getting a week solid of heavy rainfall. Or even a months worth of rainfall. It is so bad that this is something that must be fixed over years of change. In the meantime, people must realize what water really costs and how fast we are running out. If we continue in our ways, there will not be enough water to support the people living here and the state as a whole could collapse.

Before the Drought

California has had a long history of drought. According to the graph showing the Palmer Drought Severity Index for the years 1895 – 2013, it can be noted that wet seasons intermingle with dry spells. The latest California drought, which has been occurring since 2011, is the worst drought since the late 1800’s.

Although California is located in a dry climate, water was always pretty abundant. Much of California’s water is provided by the Colorado River Basin, so past California droughts were never much of a problem as long as the Colorado River Basin was able to supply water.

Because California is one of the wealthiest states in the United States, many of its residents live very luxurious lifestyles, which subsequently requires a lot of water. Before the drought, watering the lawn, washing sidewalks, and taking long showers were all commonplace for California residents.

Historically, the water and snow levels in California were much higher than they are now. The statewide snowpack is generally at its peak in early April, before it starts melting. The historical average of water content in snowpack for California on April 1 is 28.3 inches. On April 1 of 2015, the amount of snowpack recorded was only 1.4 inches. In addition, the following graph shows the historical average of water levels in various reservoirs in California, compared to their water levels today.

Hydrological Characteristics of the California Drought

Runoff Efficiency: “A measure of the effectiveness of a particular watershed in converting precipitation into runoff (Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study Study Team, 2011).”

Deficit: “Occurs whenever the 2-year average flow falls below 15 MAF, the long-term mean annual flow of 1906-2007 (Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study Study Team, 2011).”

Many factors are contributing to California’s growing drought. Among these include hotter temperatures, which lead to higher rates of evaporation; a continual exhaustion of the supply of groundwater in California, and a shortage of water on the Colorado River. The Colorado River Basin is “the main external source of water for Southern California (MacDonald, 2015).” Every year, 16.5 million acre-feet of the water from the Colorado River is distributed between the states of the Colorado River Basin, with California having been given the greatest portion of the water at 4.4 million every year.

Much of the water on the Colorado River Basin comes from precipitation runoff. The areas of the Colorado River Basin that have the most precipitation are those with the highest elevation in the Green River, Colorado River, and San Juan River. The reason for this is that because these areas have the highest elevation, their temperatures are also the coldest, allowing an ample amount of snow to accumulate. This snow eventually melts and becomes runoff. Other areas of the Basin are not cold enough to allow for the accumulation of snow, and so these lower parts of the Colorado River Basin are mostly dominated by rainfall. The sources of the Green River, Colorado River, and San Juan River all have high runoff efficiencies, as they “are able to convert about 20-30 percent of the precipitation into runoff and baseflow (Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study Study Team, 2011).”

As can be seen in the graph, the runoff efficiency in the California area of the Colorado River Basin was somewhere between 0% and 15%, during the years of 1971 to 2000. However, the higher areas of the Colorado River Basin had a runoff efficiency of up to 30%, and the water from this runoff was still distributed to California. The current deficit began in 2000, even though the drought didn’t really intensify until 2011. The current drought has led to a 6.6 million acre-feet of surface water loss, which equates to 2.2 trillion gallons.

Now, in 2015, the amount of snow on the Colorado mountains is running low at 69% of what the average usually is. According to Lexi Landers, a federal hydrologist, March was an unusually warm month and melted a lot of the snowpack, and they “likely are not going to see as much streamflow this summer.” Although the precipitation has been on par with average in most areas, the rising temperatures have cased the majority of this precipitation to be rain. This is a problem because snow typically serves as a reservoir during the spring. Other mountains in California are also being affected by warming temperatures and lack of snow fall. The Sierra Nevada mountain range recently hit its lowest snowpack level in 500 years. The snow reservoir was less than 5% of it’s 1950-2000 average, threatening California’s population and agriculture.

How the Drought Changed California


The drought has recently become a major source of wildfires in California recently. Normally in California about 500,000 acres of land burn per year, however this year by september 700,000 acres of land have already burned, and the fire season has not ended. Thousands of buildings and homes have been destroyed in the flames. This is because California has been in a state of “extreme drought” for the last 4 years and this year was the hottest ever recorded in California (Pérez-Peña 2015). These high temperatures decrease the amount of rainfall that reaches the ground and increases the amount of evaporation. So even when there is rain, it leaves the soil much quicker and plants have less time to become hydrated (Pérez-Peña 2015).

Economic Effects

The drought in California has created a gross shortage of water which hurts California economically as a state, in specific industries, and even in people’s personal lives. It is estimated that in total “The drought is costing California about $2.7 billion” this year (Kasler and Reese 2015).

Industrial Cost- Many industries that rely on water will have to pay in increasing amount per gallon of water and if the water price goes up, the price of the product will go up due to the increased cost.

Energy Sector Cost- “Droughts have direct impact on domestic water supply and on water‐dependant economic sectors, such as irrigation and hydroelectricity production” (Garrido 2014). Plants that use water to power their generators will have an increasingly hard time trying to get water to create energy. Hydroelectric plants have begun to struggle in getting enough water to make power and must think of and implement plans to get more water to the plant to provide a sufficient amount of energy. Nuclear power plants run off of water as well and with a water shortage have a harder time making energy.

Personal Impacts- On a personal level, many individuals and families in California will be affected by this drought. There have been many Laws passed pas governor Jerry Brown to try and conserve water in California. For example, people will not get water from restaurants unless “diners ask for it,” people can only water their lawns on certain days, and “Conspicuous water wasters – commercial and residential – face fines of $500 a day” (Mieszkowski 2014). It is more expensive for people to get and use water and they have been asked to take as many measures as possible to reduce their personal water waste.

Consumers of almost any type of food will also feel the weight of the drought financially as crops become more expensive to grow, they become more expensive for people to buy (Mieszkowski 2014).

Agricultural Impacts- The drought has caused a severe shortage of water and the agricultural sector uses the greatest amount of California’s water. With increased cost for water, it will become far more expensive to grow crops, and the variety of foods available will most likely decrease due to the amount of water needed to cultivate them. This goes for all foods, especially livestock and nuts. Also, the lack of water has led to “the fallowing of 542,000 acres of land” which limits the amount of space we have to grow crops (Kasler and Reese 2015).

So far, in 2015 “the drought has [directly] reduced seasonal farm employment by 10,100 jobs” (Kasler and Reese 2015). Indirectly, there has been a total of “21,000” job losses when “truck drivers, food processing workers and others partially dependent on farming” are counted in the total.

Dealing With the Drought

The California drought is a major crisis that the residents have to deal with today. It has been an on going natural disaster for 4 years. This current drought is one of the worst in the entire history of California. There has been solutions that have been suggested, and some of have already taken place. Most of the plans are going through California’s governor Jerry Brown. These plans, as expected will be expensive and will cost California a lot of money, but it is highly necessary giving the state it’s in now. The plans consists of a 1 billion dollar plan, that will be for short term relief, the restriction of water use for residents, and the plan of the State Water Resources Control Board.

With the 1 billion dollar plan established by governor brown, 272.7 million will be drawn from a bond of 7.5 billion dollars that will go for projects as such as water recycling and desalination. 660 million will go towards flood control which was approved about a decade ago. The flood control is an emphasis on the drought solution because of the possibility of extreme weather events that may be caused by the climate change. To make up for the lack of water “Brown signed a $687.4-million drought package, which offered aid to communities facing acute water shortages, and food and housing assistance to those harmed by the drought.”(Megerian & Mason 2015)

The other alternative for dealing with the drought is the restrictions upon the California residents. Governor Brown wants to aim at cutting water usage down by 25 percent. These restrictions include, the watering lawns and flushing of toilets, and how long people take showers. “Cities were prohibited from watering ornamental grass on street medians and told to revisit how much water utilities charge”(McCarthy 2015). Another problem that, needs to be cutback is in the agricultural field. There is an article that expresses how much water is used in making almonds. The article states that it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce one almond, and there were over 2.1 billion almonds produced according to the author Tom Philpott. This fact alone shows how much water farmers extract from the state, and Governor Brown’s idea of water restrictions, may have to imply to agricultural as well. Another interesting statement made by Philpott says “As I and others reported back in April, California farm country has been swept up in a drilling frenzy—farmers are dropping wells and drawing down the state’s aquifers at rates much faster than they can be replenished”(Philpott 2014). These are precautions that will have to be taken seriously for the state of California to recover from this extreme drought.

Lastly, the State Water Resource Control Board has specific actions that will help monitor the use of public water. Here are a couple of these actions to give an idea on how the control board wants to take action on this issue.

All public water supply systems are encouraged to keep records of their water system production and delivery activities through metering at the source and at customer connections.

All public water supply systems are also encouraged to adopt metered water rates that reflect the full cost of the water production and delivery and which encourage customers to minimize water use through progressively increasing water rates or other measures that penalize excessive water use.(California Water Resources Control Board)

These, and plenty other specific actions are all in place for the benefit of California.


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