Down and Drought

The Cost of Drought

We’ve had a relatively moist, cool June, but the last three winters have been some of the driest on record.

A report released by the Natural Resources Agency and the California Department of Water Resources (here) outlines the future of water in California, and the hidden cost of the drought.

The report begins by highlighting a very important bit of information: Most of the world’s ten driest years since 1880 occurred in this decade. January 2009 was the 11th driest for the Northern Sierra and 8th driest on record for the state. Though it is too soon to tell what will take place in the Gulf of Alaska, the activity of the El Nino event indicates another dry year ahead for the southern portion of the West.

Lake Oroville, the destination for the Feather River water, is hit particularly hard. The Feather River provides much of the water for the State Water Project, and much was going to the San Joaquin valley for agriculture.

Lake Oroville, before and after

It might be, then, that the West is not going to "recover" to the relatively wet, cool climate of the last 150 years. In that case, we are experiencing a period of adjustment of the plants and animals in our region, and of our own behavior, too.

What does this mean, in human terms?

First of all, the recent drought, and the diversion of water from the Central Valley to restore the health of the Sacramento/San Joaquin delta mean thousands out of work. It will be a diminished food supply, less choice at the supermarket and higher prices.

The next big cost is to the forest, as wildfires are certain to increase. This indicates a loss of timber and perhaps timber related jobs. It will also mean increased threats to our communities, and an increased need for fire safe activities (see Fire Safe page HERE).

Agriculture will suffer; there has already been a diminishing of cattle herds in California, and herds will likely grow smaller as grazing periods shorten.

Another consequence will be the lowering of the water table and drying of wells and springs, some used for domestic water.

The Regional Council of Rural Counties predicts water will remain high on the legislative agenda regardless the pressing budget issues. It should stay on our agenda, too.

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