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The State of California Struggles With A Historical Water Shortage

Dry lake beds, brown lawns and thousands of acres of barren farm land, just some of the physical evidence of one of the worst droughts in California history.

According to Chris Bonds with the California Department of Water Resources, an agency created to deal specifically with this precious resource, the state is in the middle of a drought of historic proportions. “We’re in our third consecutive year of drought” says Bonds, “that equals or exceeds some of the most severe dry periods in our history.”

Bonds points specifically to two of the most recent dry periods, the drought of 1976-77 and the drought of 1923-24, which is considered the worst drought ever. According to Bonds, “Those two droughts are considered benchmarks in terms of lack of water, but you have to consider that the population base was much smaller back then, especially that historic drought of 1923.”

One of the many ways the state is trying to encourage citizens to save water

Bonds’ group is tasked with keeping track of the state’s groundwater resources, which is being severely taxed due to the lack of rain and snowpack. Bonds says that in an average year (with average rainfall) the state will generally pull about 30% of its water needs from the groundwater basins that dot the region. But this year, that number is closer to 60%.

“Because of the lack of surface water resources this year (water from lakes, reservoirs and streams) we’re putting a lot of pressure on our groundwater supplies. It just the law of supply and demand and if we can’t get our water from our more traditional sources we have to find it elsewhere.”

State Water Project Allocation Year-to-Year

So what happens when more groundwater is being pulled than is being replaced by rain? Mark Souverville, also with the DWR, says the results can be catastrophic, “If those reservoirs aren’t replaced by water,” he says, “then they will be filled with other materials and may never again be capable of holding deep deposits of water. That can lead to subsidence or the water will simply turn into runoff and won’t be stored.”

Recent studies have come out that some areas of the West Coast are actually rising as a result of water being taken from the ground, but the DWR’s own studies show different results. The DWR has thousands of sensors across the state and that information shows that the ground is actually subsiding, or sinking, as a result of the groundwater pumping.

The State of California is taking drastic measures to preserve the water they do have and even residential water users are feeling the pinch with higher water rates and a tiered water system that chargers homeowners more for using more water than the average users.

The National Weather Service had predicted a wetter-than-normal winter this year thanks to the phenomena know as La Nina, but they have recently backed off that prediction and now say California will be lucky to get normal to below-normal precipitation.

Whatever the future holds, one thing is for sure. The population of California will be dealing with drought conditions for years to come and that will effect everything from the produce you eat (higher prices when less farmland is used) to the shower you take.