California Water Scarcity

California+Water+Scarcity

Olivia DiCorpo, Guest Editorial

For six years, California has been experiencing its driest period of the century. The government of California is struggling to satisfy their citizen’s water demand while maintaining important economies like agriculture and oil production. Last year, the governor even went as far as proposing an $8 billion plan to make a water recycling system. But, what is the cause of this great disaster? 

The first one is an oceanic and atmospheric cooling period called La Niña. This meteorological event occurs across the Pacific Ocean. Since the summer of 2020, La Niña has brought cooler waters, causing an increase in evaporation and moving the polar jet stream north. This moves the moisture and wind that the Pacific brings away from California. This results in a drier climate, lack of precipitation, and dangerously hot temperatures. 

On top of already having a naturally dry climate, California’s usage of their limited water supply further aggravates this situation. You might think that it’s California’s population that uses this water, but agricultural production is actually the biggest consumer of water. In fact, only 10% of the water supply is used for residents while 80% is consumed by the major productions like agriculture and oil. California is home to one of the world’s biggest agriculture productions. This is because of the Central Valley, which provides rich soil and perfect temperatures for crops. California produces one fourth of the country’s food and the Central Valley alone makes 8% of the country’s agricultural output. Not to mention the major alfalfa plantation that feeds the livestock. Growing heavily thirsty crops like alfalfa takes up a lot of the water supply. 

Across the state each resident uses 91 gallons per day on average. When many of the state’s reservoirs have shrunk twice as small compared to their historical average state regulators have tried dealing with this by placing restrictions and requesting water conservation from residents. As the water sources decreased these restrictions became stricter. However, the location in California also determined how strict the requirements were. For example, Colinga is provided with one source of water which is the San Luis Reservoir, a depleting aqueduct made by the federal government. Not only is it 90 miles away, it is also predicted to run out in a few months. Desperate locations like this have much stricter regulations. Residents are not even allowed to water vegetation. On the other hand, Los Angeles has been thriving for the last few years because of its easily accessible water sources: groundwater, recycling facilities, and the Metropolitan Water District. Large, wealthy cities like Los Angeles can afford their water supply and don’t have to suffer the major restrictions like the small town of Coalinga. Nevertheless, if the drought continues to get worse they will have to face the following consequences. 

The outcome of this water crisis is much more extreme than it seems. It has led to several other impacts in public health, safety, economy, and environment. 

One example of the health impact of California’s residents is air conditions. Due to the earth not getting enough moisture, it creates dust that carries unhealthy bacteria. If it enters the respiratory system it can cause valley fever, which in some cases can lead to more severe consequences. For example, Superintendent Lori Villanueva caught this illness and had to lose part of her lung to remain healthy. Another safety impact example is the increase of probability of wildfires. A drier climate is more prone to wildfires. Dehydrated plants are flammable and there are many with the several regulations of prohibition of watering vegetation. People are also limited with how much drinking water is available to them. In some places, the water depletion is so bad that it is even hard to get a glass of clean water. 

The economic impact comes from losing agriculture. Many people who work in agricultural production have lost their jobs from getting their crops plowed due to not having enough water to grow them. In addition to agriculture, fishermen have also experienced making less money because of not being able to catch as many fish. Since there is less water, less fish are able to survive.

Having less natural life like this also creates environmental impact. Without important elements like trees and fish the California natural ecosystem isn’t balanced, which causes it to not function properly. California has already experienced some of it like its plethoric amount of wildfires. In addition, the lack of precipitation has made it hard to predict the weather. Scientists have referred to this unpredictability as a paleoclimate. 

California is currently at the verge of reaching a severe water catastrophe. The time to take action towards this issue is now. It is a matter of grave concern because there is no easy solution. If it means paying billions of dollars for recycling systems, or abandoning thousands of acres of farmland. But there is one thing certain: California will have to prepare for the obstacles that await in the future, and over these next few years we will have to be cautious on how water is used.