Camarillo, Calif. – Californians fell short of 20% water reduction called for by Governor Brown. The 5% voluntary reduction was not enough to hold off mandatory state-wide water restrictions. Many California counties have already imposed mandatory water saving plans complete with enforcement officers, home inspections and the specter of $100 fines for first time offenders.
Extreme drought covers 80 percent of the state and its effects are being felt in the Central Valley and costal agricultural areas.
Drought has affected the entire west coast from Alaska where they report the driest year on record to the southwest U.S. where the Colorado River water originates. El Nino conditions have been hoped for but a single year of El Nino rain is unlikely reverse the shrinking water table.
Doug Parker, director at University of California Institute for Water Resources says, “We really need to be prepared for more drought.” The mechanics of warming water and air affecting global air circulation are complex and declaring an El Nino condition does not guarantee a wet year.
El Ninos do affect weather patterns but move rainfall unpredictably; some produce wetter years, some drier years. Mr. Parker says, “There’s a pattern of dry years happening so there’s a higher probability that next year will be a dry one.”
The University of California’s UCDavis Center for Watershed Sciences’ recent report says the current drought is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture – about one third less than normal.
The report says much of the “overdraft is a recent phenomenon caused by agriculture expanding into former rangelands … or irrigation systems that rely on groundwater that lacks recharge from streams”.
Past droughts have brought about legislation to protect water supplies, but previous efforts lacked both direction and teeth. This February, Governor Brown signed Water Action Plan which calls for swift legislative action on groundwater management.
Besides the mandatory cuts in supplied state water and reduced limits on groundwater extraction imposed on the water districts, studies are underway to duplicate the ‘settling grounds’ that have been used to recharge Ventura County’s aquifers for the last half century.
The impact of using low-lying agricultural land for the water spreading and percolation, or “Water Banking”, is currently under study. Issues of pesticide and agricultural chemicals are already finding their way into domestic water supplies.
Hundreds of thousands of acre feet (the amount of water needed to cover an acre in 1 foot of water) could be ‘banked’ from flood run-off as well as river and stream excesses. The proposal envisions using the existing water distribution systems to put the water into dormant agricultural properties. A 3 year study underway by UC Agricultural and Natural Recourses is addressing concerns over possible contamination of groundwater from the field contaminants.
The ANR News blog reports author Richard Howitt saying, “A key concern is the loss of agricultural jobs. What really hurts is you are also losing 17,000 jobs”. Howitt noted, “(These jobs) are from a sector that has the least ability to roll with the punches.”
State-wide cost of the drought from lost wages, income, local economies and lost production will total $2.2 Billion.
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