California Drought and Lack of Leadership

Nevada County has established a web site to track the growing drought impact locally and in the state here: http://www.mynevadacounty.com/nc/igs/oes/Pages/Drought-2014-Information-.aspx

There is a lot of uncertainty about the length of any drought. It is hard to look ahead and predict what the next years and years after rain and snow fall will be.  Typically California droughts last 2-3 years, with some in recent recorded history 6-10 years. However, there is evidence of much longer droughts in California, for example during the 1200s.

Duration and severity of Medieval drought in the Lake Tahoe Basin

Kleppe, JA, etal. Quaternary Science Reviews. 30:3269-3279.

Droughts in the western U.S. in the past 200 years are small compared to several megadroughts that occurred during Medieval times. We reconstruct duration and magnitude of extreme droughts in the northern Sierra Nevada from hydroclimatic conditions in Fallen Leaf Lake, California. Stands of submerged trees rooted in situ below the lake surface were imaged with sidescan sonar and radiocarbon analysis yields an age estimate of similar to 1250 AD. Tree-ring records and submerged paleoshoreline geomorphology suggest a Medieval low-stand of Fallen Leaf Lake lasted more than 220 years. Over eighty more trees were found lying on the lake floor at various elevations above the paleoshoreline. Water-balance calculations suggest annual precipitation was less than 60% normal from late 10th century to early 13th century AD. Hence, the lake’s shoreline dropped 40-60 m below its modern elevation. Stands of pre-Medieval trees in this lake and in Lake Tahoe suggest the region experienced severe drought at least every 650-1150 years during the mid- and late-Holocene. These observations quantify paleo-precipitation and recurrence of prolonged drought in the northern Sierra Nevada.

During the early 1800s we had a 13 year drought in the what was to become California. The extent of this drought is recored in the California Mission History. According to the history the growing season were shorter due to the colder climate during the Dalton Minimum. The cooler climate resulted in less rain, as the colder air reduced the evaporation to take place over the ocean. That said, the 26 year Dalton Minimum was interrupted by three years of heavy rain and snow and then return to a dryer climate.

It is interesting that following the 1976 -1977 drought, 1978 was a surplus year. The same happened in the 1987-1993 drought with a minor variation 1994 was a surplus year, but 1995 was another dry year, followed by multiple years of surplus.  It it clear, that California has highly variable climate, with variable periods of drought: short , longer and really long.  We will never know what the next year will bring, especially now that we are on the cusp of another grand minimum.

One of the major issues is the lack of leadership in the state. It has been over 40 years since the state build any additional water storage.  In the mean time we have added 60 million more toilet flushers.  In a long term drought the conservation of water resources become a failed end game strategy.  It is vital in the early stages, but it is really hard to conserve when there is no water coming out of the faucet or the shower head.   California’s long term drought history is not a secret. But, there has not been any responsible planning for storing more water in surplus years.

Two more years of sever drought and this state is going to be in real trouble. Maybe then we will get some real leaders and second and third level thinkers in Sacrament. it will be clear the current cohort has failed the people of California.   There is more on long Northern California term drought HERE.

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About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
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5 Responses to California Drought and Lack of Leadership

  1. Dena says:

    I have lived in dry climates most of my life and understand how important water can be. My new house already had a front yard with desert landscape but the back yard was untouched. My decision was to put mostly low water plants and gravel with two exceptions. I have 32 square feet of garden and 3 citrus trees. I found the LA basin very green and I suspect partly because of people back east coming out here and wanting grass so their yard looks like back east. In addition, I find often the grass receives far more water than it needs making the yards muddy and resulting in runoff.

    The other big water waster is leaky plumbing. A single leaky toilet can result in as much as a 50% increase in water consumption for two people. With the recession I suspect many people put off calling the plumber resulting in drinking water flowing to the sea. Conservation is important and needs to be practiced every day but the other part of the problem is california has become lax about it’s water supply. For years it took Arizona’s share of colorado river water so it didn’t feel the need to add to it’s own infrastructure. For a number of years Arizona wanted it’s share but didn’t have the resources to take all of it. Now Arizona can take it and strangely enough is storing it under ground where it lacks the ability to recover it.

    California first in the short term needs to push conservation. Let the lawns get a little brown and have people check their plumbing. Send out toilet test kits to everybody and tell them to use them. Next they need to take a long term look at water storage and ways to transport water from places with an excess to places lacking water. With the population centers near the pacific, Reverse Osmosis is a costly solution but if water isn’t available from other sources, it can keep the cities from drying up and blowing away. RO isn’t an option in Arizona so Arizona will continue to fight for it’s share of Colorado river water. If California is able to make an economic recovery, the water supply is going to be stressed even more and action now is the only solution to the problem.

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  2. Russ Steele says:

    BEGINNING about 1,100 years ago, what is now California baked in two droughts, the first lasting 220 years and the second 140 years. Each was much more intense than the mere six-year dry spells that afflict modern California from time to time, new studies of past climates show. The findings suggest, in fact, that relatively wet periods like the 20th century have been the exception rather than the rule in California for at least the last 3,500 years

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  3. Dave Cranfield says:

    Before anything gets done, the politicians must first drain Hetch Hetchy then bust up the dams along the Klamath River. At least those dams on the California side. I wonder what their feelings on these issues are now?

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  4. Russ Steele says:

    In order to protect the state’s available water, the California Department of Water Resources says it has dropped the number of state water allocations to zero.
    In a statement by the department on Friday, in order to protect the health and safety of state residents, the Department of Water Resources says everyone will get less water.

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