The drought has encouraged Californians to make water saving an integral part of their daily lives. Officials at the State Water Resources Control Board announced this week that for the third straight month residents are making drastic cuts in their water use, noting a 25 percent reduction which is the original goal set by Gov. Jerry Brown. They warn, however, that talk of an impending El Nino should not be considered an opportunity to return to heavy residential or business use, because it is still not a guarantee of a wet winter.
The state reported a savings of 27 percent in June and another 31 percent reduction in July. Brown’s mandate gave each city an individual conservation target based on water use in the same month in 2013, the year before he declared a drought emergency.
“We need to continue the conservation efforts,” said Max Gomberg, a senior climate scientist for the water control board. “People need to keep on doing what they’ve been doing.”
State officials are continuing to press cities and water districts to adhere to the mandatory water reductions, particularly those entities which have failed to meet targeted cuts. Gomberg said climate change—signaled by warmer temperatures, a low snowpack level and intense wildfires—has made water conservation an ongoing effort.
“Climate change is not something that’s happening in the future,” Gomberg said. “California is already dealing with the impacts.”
The late Johnny Carson may well have used this joke premise: “The drought is so bad …” How bad is it? The water control board said this week that the Sierra Nevada snowpack’s water content measured just 5 percent of normal, basically obliterating the previous record of 25 percent. Felicia Marcus, chair of the board, said the poor condition of the snowpack is what has differentiated 2015 from previous years.
“Snowpack is vitally important because when it melts, it refills the state’s reservoirs during hot summer months,” she explained. “[Now] water supplies have been cut, wells are running dry and reservoir levels have plummeted.” She pointed to Lake Shasta (59 percent below normal), Lake Oroville (48 percent), Trinity Lake (33 percent), Folsom Lake (32 percent) and New Melones Lake (20 percent) as evidence of the drastic change in the availability of fresh water.
The 2015 water year has witnessed the highest average temperature in 120 years of record-keeping. According to the California Climate Tracker, the state’s average temperature was 58.4 degrees which is more than three degrees warmer than average and almost a full degree warmer than the previous high in 1995-96. Michael Anderson, a state climatologist, said the biggest impact of warmer temperatures has been the intensification of the effects of drought, thereby increasing evaporation and drying out the soil.
“The character of this drought has been to have record and near-record temperatures,” Anderson said. “This drought is definitely warmer than its 20th-century counterparts. And when you run into that, you have a higher demand for water and a limited supply, so it creates greater stress.”