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Short term
profits and longterm effects
Zach Fredrickson
Geology 1010 MWF 9:00-9:50

California Water Crisis, Zach Fredrickson

The state of California has entered a State of Emergency. Currently
experiencing the most intense and threatening drought in recorded history,
government officials and scientists are rushing to figure out a solution to
their problem. California has bad bouts of negligible rainfall in the past, but
what makes this specific drought different?
Snowpack in the Sierra Nevadan peaks lining the East side of the state
are at the lowest levels in 75 years. Decreasing amounts of precipitation in
the past few years are due to the Triple R: the Ridiculously Resilient high
pressure Ridge. This pressure system hasn't budged for 14 months now and
is keeping the cool, wetter air north of the Southwest. It is predicted by NASA
that the region is entering a megadrought that will stay for at least 50 years.
In addition to drought caused by climate fluctuations, groundwater,
especially in the farming community of the San Joaquin Valley, is being
drained at unsustainable rates. Rates of subsidence have reached up to 1.05
feet per year in some parts of the valley. In fact, there are regions that have
sunk a total of 28 feet (Figure 3) from this phenomenon. In an article by
Mercury News, Bakersfield farmer Steve Arthur remembers pumping water
from his family's 240 foot well for his family's farm; back then it served them
more than adequately. Since then, groundwater drainage has skyrocketed.
Today, his well-drilling company must bore holes 1,200 feet into the earth
just to tap viable aquifers (Krieger). The main danger of water table

subsidence is structural failure. Building foundations, infrastructure, and

canals can be compromised. Although extreme, this voracious thirst isn't
entirely surprising. California produces a solid majority of food eaten by
Americans. It takes 34 million acre feet (350,000 gallons each) of water to
feed most Americans every year through Californian agriculture. Many of the
crops the San Joaquin Valley is producing are cash crops with a voracious
thirst for water. Almond trees, which account for 10% of California's water
consumption, take 55 gallons to cultivate a single nut. 220 gallons are
needed for a large avocado to grow. As the subsidence rates show us, most
of the water is taken from the ground.
In addition to groundwater welling, California's agricultural and urban
communities rely on rainfall and mountain snowmelt for their water.
Precipitation in California and the surrounding American southwest has been
on the decline in recent years. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains hit
a 75 year low during the 2014-2015 winter. To put this into perspective,
Tahoe City, a municipality nestled in the Sierran mountain range received a
meager 19.5 inches of snow spanning October 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015.
These numbers are 143.1 inches below average for the city . During their
snowiest month of January, they didn't receive any precipitation at all. This
poses a difficult situation: approximately one-third of California's drinking
water comes from the Sierra snowpack after the snowmelt fills the state's
reservoirs. Lake levels have seen a dramatic decrease in volume in recent
years. Visceral images like the before and after photograph of Lake OrovilleFig

depict the severity of water loss between 2011 and 2014. An obvious scar

of brown, barren land indicates where water once occupied the landscape.
The bridge shown, once just hovering above water level, now has entirely
exposed supporting pillars beneath. Figure 2 shows a couch sitting on the
dried and cracked lake bed of the Alamaden Reservoir. In 2011, the chair
would be several feet underwater. Reservoirs are primarily used for
reclamation and treatment (potable drinking water, irrigation, plumbing and
crop watering), and hydroelectric power generation. With a population of
nearly 40 million in California, a large amount of trust is put into these
reservoir systems to maintain worry-free life. Severe droughts in California
have occurred in the past both during human settlement and prior, some
lasting several years, but coupled with the rapid increase in world
temperatures caused by human-induced climate change and no foreseeable
end in sight, make this particularly concerning.
As of April 1, 2015 Governor Brown of California has issued a State of
Emergency and a mandated cutback of water usage by 25%. They will be
eliminating 50 million square feet of grass lawns and replacing them with
drought-tolerant landscaping such as rocks, cacti, and succulents while
urging residents to follow suit with their own properties. They have provided
incentive with their "cash for grass" program which, according to, Los Angeles county is providing $1-$2 to property owners per
square foot of grass they convert to drought-tolerant landscaping. In addition
to xeriscaping lawns, the county provides a list on their website of several

ways to reduce water waste like only washing full loads of laundry, only
filling the bath tub up half way, and switching out old appliances for ones
that are more water-efficient. Using data from 1,000 years of tree rings and
soil moisture measurements, NASA predicts that if "business as usual" is
continued (meaning that no action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions)
then the current droughts affecting the American southwest and other
regions of the world will get increasingly worse. Even if aggressive action to
reduce is taken drought may be impeded, but it will still get worse.
Procedures such as hydraulic fracturing, which uses about 8 million gallons of
water per drilling session while polluting the aquifers, needs to be stopped or
at least more heavily regulated. Also, the solar and wind energy sectors are
on the rise right now. To really make a positive impact on our future we need
to expand these practices tenfold. But before any of this can happen, a
global connectivity in consciousness about the issue facing not only
California but the entire world needs to happen. Education is the first step,
and action follows second. We, the informed: it is our decisions that
determine the future.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3

Works Cited

Palmer, M. (2014, April 25). All of California in Drought for First Time in
at Least 15 Years. Retrieved April 26, 2015, from
NOAA Ocean Explorer: Education - Multimedia Discovery Missions |
Lesson 7 - The Water Cycle | Activities: Groundwater Use and Overuse.
(2013, February 12). Retrieved April 26, 2015, from

Krieger, L. (2014, March 23). California Drought: San Joaquin Valley sinking as farmers race

to tap aquifer. Retrieved April 26, 2015, from
Top Story: State Urban Water Users Exceed 20 Percent Conservation Goal For December.

(n.d.). Retrieved April 26, 2015, from

Gerken, J. (2015, February 3). California Met Governor's Water Consumption Goals Last
Month, Thanks To Rainy December. Retrieved April 26, 2015, from

Erdman, J. (2015, April 10). California's Snowpack at Record Early-April Low; Sierra Snow

Survey Finds Bare Ground. Retrieved April 27, 2015, from
Cash for Grass Rebate Program. (n.d.). Retrieved April 27, 2015, from
The Sun Belt Case. (2004, June 16). Retrieved April 27, 2015, from
Holthaus, E. (2014, May 14). 10 Percent of Californias Water Goes to Almond Farming.
Thats Nuts. Retrieved April 27, 2015, from