What is the California Drought?

By: Lauren Michelson

Uh oh, looks like it's here to stay...

The state of California is currently in the midst of it's third drought year, and is expected to last for at least another year. California's dryness is a part of a longer-term, 15-year drought across most of the Western USA. But how did this come to be?

How the drought came to be...

This drought is the result of a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure hovering over the Pacific Ocean. This region, known as a Blocking Ridge, diverts storms away from California and is much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations. The Blocking Ridge then disrupts typical wind patterns, causing Pacific storms to bypass the state.

Is climate change to blame?

Human-induced climate change acts over long-term time periods and interacts with natural climate changes. Modeling performed by climate researchers suggests a trend toward increasing aridity (warmer and drier) in the U.S. Southwest, exacerbating drought conditions.

are we sure this is true?

Absolutely. Climatologists and meteorologists use rainfall, snowpack, and streamflow data to determine and then monitor droughts. Resources such as the US Drought Monitor compile this data and make it readily available for analysis. In order to understand the conditions of the past, they look at the rings of trees which indicate the level of rainfall based on their width (wider means wetter).

How will we solve this problem?

Various programs have already been put in place such as increased water conservation education and voluntary or mandatory rationing programs. Other options include increased groundwater pumping and short-term water transfers for agricultural water agencies.

are there policies in place to combat the drought?

Two new policies have been put in place:


  • SWEEP - State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program - it creates opportunities for growers to receive financial assistance to install water distribution systems that save water and reduce greenhouse gases which will ultimately benefit all Californians
  • R-GPCD – Residential Gallons Per-Capita Per Day - a new reporting requirement, estimates daily water use by residential customers for nearly 400 urban water agencies statewide alongside the monthly conservation data. It is useful for tracking water use by an urban water supplier’s residential customers and can help determine whether water supplier actions, such as irrigation restrictions, rebate programs, and rate design changes, are effective.
Big image

Has there been progress?

Yes! The above image demonstrates what types of programs areas have put in place to conserve water. Each color dot represents a different activity, and the key is included in the image above. Reno's report reads: Implemented Stage 2 Mandatory Water Restrictions. Prohibitions include: Washing paved surfaces; leaks not repaired; run-off; irrigating between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.; non-commercial washing of vehicles except with a bucket and a hose with an automatic shut-off nozzle; filling or refilling swimming pools; use of potable water for dust control. Violators will first be warned, then fines will be issued for subsequent offenses.

About the Author: Lauren Michelson

Lauren Michelson is a member of the Marymount School Chapter of the American Meteorological Society. She devotes much of her time to observing the atmosphere and climate in NYC as a part of her rigorous Atmospheric Science course. One may even dare to say climate studies are a passion of hers. In Lauren's spare time, she enjoys rowing, running, and binge watching Netflix.