The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to declare a local emergency in order to get well water to some 150 families living in Bouquet Canyon in the Santa Clarita Valley.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP), which owns and operates the reservoir at the top of the canyon, has always released water that runs down Bouquet Creek and flows into local wells, but a series of fires and storms 12 years ago filled the creek with sediment—so much so that the amount became level with the roadway and the resulting runoff created hazardous driving conditions. Since then, several wells have dried up and the DWP stopped releasing water.
The move by the DWP is the latest measure taken to ensure that local residents in north Los Angeles County have an ample supply of drinking water as the drought continues to wreak havoc from Redding to San Diego.
Big cities throughout the state may not bear a large burden during the drought. Los Angeles now has Diamond Valley Lake to draw from; this body of water supposedly holds enough water to get Los Angeles through at least two more years of drought without many residents going thirsty. The water is diverted months ahead of time from the Colorado River near the California-Arizona border and is overseen by the Metropolitan Water District’s Diamond Valley Reservoir. Major cities operate drought contingency plans to deal with dry years with a strategy that typically involves tapping diverse sources of water such as local and imported surface water, reserves stored in reservoirs and groundwater aquifers, wastewater recycling, some desalination and daily pleas for conservation.
Last week, federal officials announced that the state’s largest water delivery system, the Central Valley Project, will not provide water to farmers in the Central Valley which produces half of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables. Farmers will have to watch 500,000 acres of cropland, orchards and pastures turn brown and die out.
NASA has offered to conduct research to help find ways to stem the drought. Scientists have deployed satellites and other advanced technology to help state officials assess the drought and suggest the best ways to manage it. The California Department of Water Resources is working with the space agency to better assess snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and to monitor ground water levels and to forecast storms. Gov. Jerry Brown has directed state officials to form such partnerships as part of his drought emergency declaration.
“We’re on the verge of being able to put all these measurements together and start looking at the concept of closing the water budget in California,” said NASA geologist Tom Farr. He said that bringing together all types of research and modern technology “like pieces of a puzzle” may help those in charge of managing the state’s water supply avoid future deficit water years.
Scientists are advancing a climate prediction method that measures so-called “atmospheric rivers” to better predict global storm systems farther in advance so rain can be captured in state reservoirs. They say satellite images can show the amount of land farmers who have chosen not to plant during a drought and this data will provide officials in Sacramento with valuable information, including where to open food banks for farm workers—hundreds of which have been laid off since last summer because there is nothing to harvest. These “fallowed” fields translate to high rates of unemployed farm workers who fall back on social services such as food assistance programs.
Despite the latest scientific innovations, officials at the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) in Lincoln, Neb. told NBC News this week that they have no way of predicting how long the drought will last. They have looked at tree growth rings throughout the state and reveal that there have been prolonged periods of aridity in the past.
“To know that we are going into another pattern like California has experienced in the past—that we could expect this drought to persist for 10 or 15 years—is really, really hard to say,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatalogist with the NDMC. “There is nothing in our forecasting models that are being looked at that would suggest that we would even have the ability to do that.” Fuchs said some California droughts stretching back 700 years moved entire [Native Indian] societies out of regions. “Are we able to offset some of that impact because of the developed water systems and technology? That’s even a tough question to ask,” Fuchs added.
On Tuesday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) announced the dry weather has began to impact air quality—despite the showers that began Wednesday evening over Southern California—trapping fine particles to the ground and leaving a build-up of sooty haze over the county.
“Wood smoke from fireplaces contributes to regional particulate pollution, which is a serious health threat,” said Barry R. Wallerstein, SCAQMD executive officer. “Residents can play an important role in helping to clean the air and protect their family’s health by checking before they burn wood in their fireplaces.”