California Drought May Induce Water Rationing

Drought conditions like these have striken much of California with only 5% of the state reporting at or above average precipitation. (Credit: NOAA)
Drought conditions like these have striken much of California with only 5% of the state reporting at or above average precipitation. (Credit: NOAA)

The worsening drought in California may necessitate water rationing measures in the near future if significant precipitation does not develop in the coming months.

The drought in California has worsened throughout the winter following wildfires in the fall and a relatively dry winter.  The cause of the drier season has been the alignment of the jet stream.  As the jet stream buckled to the north, bringing significant storms to the Pacific Northwest rather than over the northern mountains of California  Fewer storms have resulted in a lower than average snowpack.

The region depends largely on a growing winter snowpack to produce abundant moisture for industrial and agricultural uses throughout the state.

California drought conditions as of February 24, 2009.  Red indicates Extreme Drought, while orange indicates severe. (Credit: UNL Drought Monitor
California drought conditions as of February 24, 2009. Red indicates Extreme Drought, while orange indicates severe. (Credit: UNL Drought Monitor

The drought that first developed three years ago has worsened significantly this winter as the majority of significant storms have tracked farther north than normal.

Last week, CA governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency over the severe drought conditions. The declaration may help the state gain access to federal emergency funds.

Schwarzenegger has given support to the legislature to pass a bill that would build controversial dams and institute significant water recycling programs. In a statement, he called on cities to reduce water use or face the first ever mandatory state restrictions as soon as the end of March.

“California faces its third consecutive year of drought and we must prepare for the worst — a fourth, fifth or even sixth year of drought,” Schwarzenegger said. In a statement released Friday, the governor indicated that recent storms haven’t been enough to relieve the region of the significant deficit of precipitation.

As a result of the drought, nearly 100,000 agricultural jobs may be lost or not offered as they are in the normal course of the growing season.

The University of Nebraska – Lincoln Drought Monitor has designated a large portion of northern California as under “Extreme” drought – just one level beneath the most severe “Exceptional” drought.

As of the latest update on February 24th, nearly half of the state is in severe drought conditions with 15% of the state under “extreme” drought conditions.  Overall, only 5% of the state is not under some level of drought, as compared to 45% of the state under “normal” conditions just one year ago.

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