California: The Drought Continues

Published on August 25th, 2014

California droughtPeople across the country haven’t heard much about California’s drought in recent months. But as Californians well know, that drought – the worst in the state’s recorded history – has not relented. Nearly all of the state suffers at least “severe drought,” the third highest level on a five-level scale to measure dryness. Eighty-two percent of the state suffers at least “extreme drought,” the second highest level, and nearly 60 percent of California is in the grip of “exceptional drought,” the highest level.

The growing shortage of water is impacting average citizens, as the state recently authorized fines of up to $500 a day for nonessential use of water. No major reservoir in the state is at or above its average historical capacity.

So far, the drought, now going on for three years, has not yet devastated the state’s agricultural production. The reason is that farmers have made up for the lack of surface water by drilling wells to tap ground water. That water, however, is being drawn out at an unsustainable rate, and in many places the water table is falling. As the aquifers are depleted, the land above them in some areas is beginning to sink.

The drought shows no signs of letting up any time soon, and some scientists warn that it could be just the beginning of an extended dry spell. Archaeological data suggest that at times during the past, the state has experienced droughts lasting 50 years or more. Then, of course, the area didn’t have a population of 38 million people and extensive agriculture to support.

The current dry spell is not just affecting California, the nation’s leading agricultural state. As The Washington Post notes, “The parched zone now spans a dozen states and nearly 600 counties, from southern Texas to the northern Rockies, and includes fields and grazing land that produce a third of the country’s beef cattle and half its fruit, vegetables and winter wheat. Prices for most of these products have soared this year.”

Officials in California and these other states are discussing various solutions to cope with existing and impending water shortages. Unfortunately, the issue of growing populations and their demands on water is not on the agendas, and is seldom mentioned in the mainstream media. One recent exception was an article appearing on forbes.com. Entitled, “California’s Economic Collision Course: Immigration and Water,” it noted that the state’s current population of 38 million is projected to rise to between 45 million and 50 million during the next 20 years. In California, as well as the rest of the country, immigration will be the major force pushing population growth.

Unfortunately, the article only mentioned immigration in passing. Its major thrust was to criticize California Gov. Jerry Brown for placing more emphasis on developing a high-speed rail system rather than working to solve the water crisis. This may be an accurate criticism. But most certainly another one is that he doesn’t seem to have a clue about population.

As one outstanding example, Brown goes out of his way to endorse and sign legislation that encourages illegal aliens living in California, approximately three million, to remain in the state, while encouraging more unauthorized migrants to come and join them. Evidently it doesn’t occur to him that they use water just like everyone else. If the drought continues, more and more people will start making this connection. Possibly even Brown will too.

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