Drought in California

Emma Griffin

Dry as a Bone

In the past three years, due to a number of factors, such as less-frequant rain and snow storms, inefficient use of stored ground water, and climate change, the residents of California have experienced a severe drought throughout the state, resulting in loss in agriculture, receding water levels in lakes and reservoirs, and cut-backs on water use for both families and businesses. But what are the causes of this drought, and how are the people of California reacting?

Evidence of the Drought

Why is this happening?

The "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge" Strikes the Pacific Northwest

The drought in California, which has lasted nearly three years, was partially caused by an atmospheric ridge, a expansive high-pressure zone located over the North Pacific, which has blocked major rain and snow storms from reaching the Californian coast during the winter months, in which the state gets the majority of its essential precipitation. Like a mountain range, this ridge, dubbed the "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge" by scientists, deflects the storms and sends them farther north, usually towards Alaska or British Columbia.

High-pressure zones are common during the winter months, but rarely last as long as the "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge" has, causing prolonged rain and snow shortages, and the evaporation of lakes and reservoirs, as seen in the photos above.

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Climate Change and the Drought

Although the obstruction of rain and snowstorms to the California coast has prevented new precipitation to enter California, climate change has had a substantial effect on the existing water supplies inland. Since 2012, a pattern of warmer water in the Northern Pacific has both added to the high-pressure zone blocking the storms and accelerated the rate at which the water on the ground evaporates, as warmer water evaporates faster. This has led to diminished reservoirs of already collected rain and snowfall for the residence of California. Additionally, the perception that does reach California is in the form of rain, not snow, and since the snow is more readily stored in reservoirs for use over the summer, the state is unable to save enough water, leaving the land, and residents, even more thirsty.
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Folsom Lake in Northern California

Unsustainable Use of Saved Water Reservoirs

In addition to both of these reasons, the shortage of water in California is due as well to the water deficit created by farmers and businesses during the summer months.

Each winter, when California usually gets more rain and snow storms, the excess ground water from these storms are stored in reservoirs for use during the summer, when rainstorms are few and far between. In recent years, the farmers and business needing water to grow their produce overdraw from these stores, to the point at which they cannot be fully refilled with the next winters ground water. Because of this, the residents are cutting back as to save the little reserved water they have left after winters with little to no rain or snow.

Keeping Track of the Drought

Call to Action for California

State and Public Response

As the drought has stretched on, leaving less and less water with each passing month, California governor Jerry Brown has asked residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20% to help conserve water. The state Division of Drinking Water determines areas of California that may be particularly susceptible to acute drinking water shortages, and distributes emergency drinking water grants to people in severe need of fluids.
Angie Harmon Takes the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Actress Angie Harmon of "Rizzoli and Isles" completes the ASL Ice Bucket Challenge in California. She modified her position so as to water the parched earth with the ice that was thrown at her.

California's residents have made a conscious effort to conserve water, skipping showers, not watering their lawns or planting drought tolerant plants, as shown in the LA County PSA below.

PSA - Drought Tolerant Landscaping

So Stay Alert, America!