2011–17 California drought

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Progression of the drought from December 2013 to July 2014

From December 2011 to March 2017, the state of California experienced one of the worst droughts to occur in the region on record.[1][2] The period between late 2011 and 2014 was the driest in California history since record-keeping began.[3] 102 million trees died in total due to the drought from 2011 to 2016, with 62 million dead in 2016 only, according to the US Forest Service.[4]

By February 23, 2017, the percentage of the state in drought was less than during the beginning of the drought in late 2011, mainly due to a very wet pattern caused by atmospheric river-enhanced Pacific storms.[5] The wet pattern caused severe flooding.

History[edit]

2013[edit]

In 2013 the total rainfall was less than 34% of what was expected. Many regions of the state accumulated less rainfall in 2013 than any other year on record. As a result of this, many fish species were threatened. Streams and rivers were so low that fish couldn't get to their spawning grounds, and survival rates of any eggs that were laid were expected to be low. Lack of rainfall had caused the mouths of rivers to be blocked off by sand bars which further prevented fish from reaching their spawning grounds. Stafford Lehr, Chief of Fisheries within the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said that 95% of winter run salmon didn’t survive in 2013.[2]

Percent area in U.S. Drought Monitor categories (2014)

2014[edit]

According to the NOAA Drought Task Force report of 2014, the drought is not part of a long-term change in precipitation and was a symptom of the natural variability, although the record-high temperature that accompanied the recent drought may have been amplified due to human-induced global warming.[6] This was confirmed by a 2015 scientific study which estimated that global warming "accounted for 8–27% of the observed drought anomaly in 2012–2014... Although natural variability dominates, anthropogenic warming has substantially increased the overall likelihood of extreme California droughts." [7]

Logo of the Save Our Water campaign

By February 1, 2014, Felicia Marcus, the chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board, claimed the 2014 drought "is the most serious drought we've faced in modern times." Marcus argues that California needs to "conserve what little we have to use later in the year, or even in future years."[8] A 16-year study of how precipitation affects groundwater-dependent vegetation was conducted and the results showed that the alkali meadow vegetation plant community is groundwater dependent, and that this characteristic buffers the system from the effects of drought. This means that certain plants are actually able to help prevent droughts, but can only do so if groundwater is maintained at a certain level. One of the reasons that the study was conducted was to ascertain whether the Owens Valley region of California could handle any practiced or proposed groundwater extraction.[9]

In February 2014, the Californian drought reached for the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project to shortages of water supplies. The California Department of Water Resources planned to reduce water allocations to farmland by 50%. California's 38 million residents experienced 13 consecutive months of drought. This is particularly an issue for the state's 44.7 billion dollar agricultural industry, which produces nearly half of all U.S.-grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables.[10] This is after the LADWP expected to increase the pumping of aquifers to about 1.36×108 m3 a year (City of Los Angeles and County of Inyo 1991) but the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has reported that a sustainable pumping rate is a third lower, at around 8.64×107 m3 a year (Danskin 1998).

According to NASA, tests published in January 2014 have shown that the twelve months prior to January 2014 were the driest on record, since record-keeping began in 1885.[11] In mid-May 2014, the US Drought Monitor analysis showed that 100% of California was already under "Severe Drought" or a higher level.[citation needed] The 2014 drought is considered the worst in 1,200 years.[12][13][14] As California received additional rainfall in December 2014, this was not expected to end California's drought, and trees were at risk due to weakened roots.[15][16] Experts also noted that due to the soil's extreme dryness and low groundwater levels, it would take significantly more rain—at least five more similar storms—to end the drought.[17][18] On December 18, it was revealed that almost all of the Exceptional Drought in Northern California had been reduced to Extreme Drought severity, as a result of the winter storms that brought rain to California during December.[19]

In 2014, a study by the UC California Institute for Water Resources was released which found that rainfall has been abnormally high since the late 1800s.[20] According to Professor Scott Stine from Cal State East Bay, California experienced its wettest period in seven thousand years during the 20th century, according to his study of tree stumps around Mono Lake, Tenaya Lake and other parts of the Sierra Nevada.[21] Stine is quoted as saying in the National Geographic Magazine, "What we have come to consider normal is profoundly wet,".[22] This view was backed by Lynn Ingram of University of California, Berkeley,[23] and Glen MacDonald of UCLA.[24]

Lack of water due to low snowpack prompted Californian governor Jerry Brown to order a series of stringent mandatory water restrictions on April 1, 2015.[25] Brown ordered cities and towns to reduce their water usage by 25%, which would amount in 1.5 million acre-feet of water in the nine months following the mandate in April. However, Brown's water restrictions have been criticized because they have not been applied to California's agricultural sector, which uses around 80% of California's developed water supply.[26]

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife closed dozens of streams and rivers to fishing in 2014. Lehr has said that he fears coho salmon may go completely extinct south of the Golden Gate Bridge in the near future. In early 2014 the main stems of the Eel, Mad, Smith, Van Duzen, and Mattole rivers were closed pending additional rainfall. Large areas of the Russian and American rivers were closed indefinitely.[27] Most rivers in San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties were also closed pending further rainfall.[27] Other actions have also been taken, such as releasing more water from the Kent Dam in hopes of raising the levels in the Lagunitas Creek watershed—one of the last spawning grounds that wild coho can still reach.[28]

Protesters say that banning fishing will disrupt the economy and threaten the livelihoods of individuals who rely on salmon fishing during the winters. Officials feel that it will help prevent species that are already in trouble from slipping to extinction.[27]

2015[edit]

In May 2015, a state resident poll conducted by Field Poll found that two out of three respondents agreed that it should be mandated for water agencies to reduce water consumption by 25%.[29]

The 2015 prediction of El Niño to bring rains to California raised hopes of ending the drought. In the spring of 2015, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration named the probability of the presence of El Niño conditions until the end of 2015 at 80%. Historically, sixteen winters between 1951 and 2015 had created El Niño. Six of those had below-average rainfall, five had average rainfall, and five had above-average rainfall. However, as of May 2015, drought conditions had worsened and above average ocean temperatures had not resulted in large storms.[30]

The drought led to Governor Jerry Brown's instituting mandatory 25 percent water restrictions in June 2015.[31]

In response to heightening drought conditions, California has tightened fishing restrictions in many areas of the state. Streams and rivers on the northern coast have unprecedented amounts of fishing bans.[27] In February 2015 the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to further tighten regulations on both recreational and commercial fishing. The U.S. Endangered Species Act has listed steelhead as threatened and coho salmon as endangered.[28]

2016[edit]

Many millions of California trees died from the drought—approximately 102 million, including 62 million in 2016 alone.[32] By the end of 2016, 30% of California had emerged from the drought, mainly in the northern half of the state, while 40% of the state remained in the extreme or exceptional drought levels.[33]

2017[edit]

Heavy rains in January 2017 had significant benefit to the state's northern water reserves, despite widespread power outages and erosional damage in the wake of the deluge.[34] Among the casualties of the rain was 1,000 year-old Pioneer Cabin Tree in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, which toppled on January 8, 2017.[35]

Since then, a very large percentage of the drought has been eliminated in California due to a persistent weather pattern which allowed rounds of storm systems to consistently hammer the state, with the snowpack rising to well above average. By January 24, 2017, not one portion of the state was in "Exceptional" drought, the highest category on the Drought Monitor. On February 21, no part of the state was in the next-lower category of "Extreme" drought, and over 60% of the state's area was no longer in any level of drought.

On April 7, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown declared the drought over.[36]

Mitigation[edit]

Plastic shade balls were floated on reservoirs to prevent evaporative losses, beginning about 2008.[37][38]

Long-term mitigation[edit]

Voters' approval of the Proposition 1 water bond in 2014 has been interpreted as an eagerness to add flexibility to California's water system.[39]

In early 2016, Los Angeles County began a proactive cloud-seeding program.[40]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Most of California is out of the drought". Latimes.com. 23 February 2017. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  2. ^ a b Hickey, Brian (February 5, 2014). "Calif. bans fishing on more rivers due to drought". KCRA.Com. KCRA. Retrieved May 25, 2015. 
  3. ^ Ellen Hanak; Jeffrey Mount; Caitrin Chappelle (January 2015). "California's Latest Drought". PPIC. 
  4. ^ "California's Long Drought Has Killed 100 Million Trees". Live Sciences. 7 December 2016. 
  5. ^ "New report: Drought finally over in nearly every part of California". Mercurynews.com. 23 February 2017. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ Williams,, A. Park; et al. (2015). "Contribution of anthropogenic warming to California drought during 2012-2014". Geophysical Research Letters. 42 (16): 6819. Bibcode:2015GeoRL..42.6819W. doi:10.1002/2015GL064924. 
  8. ^ "Amid Drought, California Agency Won't Allot Water". Daily Herald  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). Arlington Heights, IL. February 1, 2014. Retrieved July 17, 2014. 
  9. ^ "EBSCO Publishing Service Selection Page". Web.b.ebscohost.com. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  10. ^ "California drought: no relief in sight, Drinking water and farming are at risk from state's ongoing drought, but forecasts offer little hope". The Guardian. UK. February 3, 2014. Retrieved July 17, 2014. 
  11. ^ Drought Stressing California’s Plantscape, Earth Observatory, NASA, February 2014 
  12. ^ "California's Drought Worst in 1,200 Years, Researchers Say". Nbcnews.com. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  13. ^ "California's Drought Is Now the Worst in 1,200 Years". Time.com. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  14. ^ "LA Times". Touch.latimes.com. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  15. ^ Rice, Doyle (December 10, 2014). "California braces for fiercest storm in 5 years". USA Today. Retrieved December 11, 2014. 
  16. ^ Erdman, Jon; Wiltgen, Nick; Lam, Linda. "California Storm: High Wind Warnings, Flood Watches, Blizzard Warnings Issued for West Coast Storm". The Weather Channel. Retrieved December 11, 2014. 
  17. ^ Lurie, Julia (December 12, 2014). "Think California's Huge Storm Will End the Drought? Think Again". Wired Science. Retrieved December 13, 2014. 
  18. ^ Deprez, Esme E.; Vekshin, Alison (December 11, 2014). "California Would Need Five More Super Storms to Quell Drought". Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved December 13, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Weekend Flooding Swamps Parts of Oregon, Washington". Weather.com. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  20. ^ Warnert, Jeannette E. (March 27, 2014). "The California drought is helping return the weather pattern to normal". Green Blog. Regents of the University of California. Retrieved March 10, 2015. Scauzillo, Steve (December 20, 2015). "Drought: December rainfall breaks records but California needs more". San Gabriel Valley Tribune. Retrieved March 10, 2015. Huttner, Paul (January 31, 2015). "Tundra Time continues, California reaches 'Drought Critical' phase". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved March 10, 2015. What’s more, much of the state’s development over the last 150 years came during an abnormally wet era, which scientists say could come to a quick end with the help of human-induced climate change. 
  21. ^ Boxall, Bettina (5 October 2014). "In virtual mega-drought, California avoids defeat". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 8 April 2015. Rogers, Paul (25 January 2014). "California drought: Past dry periods have lasted more than 200 years, scientists say". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 8 April 2015. Stevens, William K. (19 July 1994). "Severe Ancient Droughts: A Warning to California". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2015. "What the West's Ancient Droughts Say About Its Future". News.natrionalgeographic.com. 15 February 2014. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  22. ^ Kunzig, Robert (February 2008). "Drying of the West". National Geographic Magazine. National Geographic Society. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  23. ^ Warnet, Jeannette E. (27 March 2014). "The California drought is helping return the weather pattern to normal". Green Blogg. Regents of University of California Agricultural Experiment Station. Retrieved 8 April 2015. 
  24. ^ Margolis, Jacob (15 September 2016). "California's drought could continue for centuries". KPCC. Retrieved 16 September 2015. 
  25. ^ "California governor orders mandatory water restrictions amid drought". FOX News, Associated Press. April 1, 2015. Retrieved April 1, 2015. 
  26. ^ "Quick Links". CNN, Associated press. April 1, 2015. Retrieved April 2, 2015. 
  27. ^ a b c d Kinney, Aaron (February 5, 2014). "Historic fishing ban expanded by California wildlife officials". San Mateo County Times. San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved May 25, 2015. 
  28. ^ a b Clarke, Chris (January 28, 2014). "Drought May Already Have Killed Off Central Coast Coho Salmon". KCET. Retrieved May 25, 2015. 
  29. ^ Alexander, Kurtis (19 May 2015). "California drought: People support water conservation, in theory". SF Gate. Retrieved 20 May 2015. 
  30. ^ Rogers, Paul (14 May 2015). "California drought: El Niño conditions strengthening, but don't break out the galoshes yet". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 20 May 2015. 
  31. ^ "The California drought: What would you ask Gov. Jerry Brown?". USC News. 8 June 2015. Retrieved 10 June 2015. 
  32. ^ USDA Office of Communications (2016-11-18). "New Aerial Survey Identifies More Than 100 Million Dead Trees in California". USDA/U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  33. ^ USDA Brad Rippey (2016-12-26). "U.S. Drought Monitor California". unl.edu. Retrieved 28 December 2016. [dead link]
  34. ^ rogers, Paul (January 9, 2017). "California storms add 350 billion gallons to parched reservoirs". The Mercury News (San Jose). Bay Area News Group. Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  35. ^ Andrews, Travis M. (January 9, 2017). "Morning Mix: Winter storm fells one of California's iconic drive-through tunnel trees, carved in the 1880s". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 10, 2017. 
  36. ^ Associated Press (2017-04-07). "California's drought is officially over, Gov. Jerry Brown says". CBS News. Retrieved 2017-04-16. 
  37. ^ "Millions of Shade Balls to Prevent Evaporation in California Reservoirs". 
  38. ^ Marco Chown Oved, "Shade Balls: Just Ad Water. Toronto Star, October 23, 2016
  39. ^ "Commentary: Lessons of 1986 floods continue to reverberate". Agalert.com. Retrieved 17 December 2017. 
  40. ^ Reynard Loki, Conspiracy Theories Rain Down, Salon Magazine, March 24, 2016