The short answer is an emphatic, “YES!” It is real. Even if El Niño arrives next year, as some climatologists have hinted, California currently uses too much water to allow replenishment of its reservoirs and ground water – now at historic low levels. It is predicted that precipitation levels will fluctuate wildly, as they have historically, while water demand increases. The California Data Exchange Center reports that California reservoirs are at 62.39% of average. Some are as low as 7 and 9%. The Sierra snowpack in the northern part of the state has reached 21% of average, up from 12% before the early March storms. Nowhere in the state is the snowpack above 34% and very little rain is forecast for the rest of this year’s rainy season. San Francisco residents depend on snow melt for their water. Some towns in California are predicted to have no water within 60 days. Irresponsible water use should not drain our precious resource.
One answer is conservation and planning. According to Barton H. “Buzz” Thompson, an expert in environmental and natural resources law and policy at Stanford University, there are many ways that Californians can use less water. At a symposium presented by the Bill Lane Center for the American West and the Water in the West Project at Stanford University, Thompson proposed that the state protect ground water, protect the environment, avoid building new reservoirs and desalinization plants, set up water exchanges where even fish have water rights, and encourage water utilities to tier water rates.
Many of us who were here in the big droughts of 1976-77 and 1985-86 have already tightened our belts, so trying to reach the voluntary 20% reduction, as requested by Governor Brown, is going to mean even more careful planning. California has more people and less water. The state produces nearly half of US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables and has the highest per-state cash farm receipts in the nation, per CA Dept of Food and Agriculture. This farmland has international importance as well. It grows 70% of the world’s almonds.
The state needs to put serious water conservation measures in place before any rains that El Nino might bring next year could lull everyone back into complacency.
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*Posted from San Francisco by Barbara Folger, NWNL Project Coordinator