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8/22/2014

California Droughts: Then and Now | Erico Matias Tavares | LinkedIn

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California Droughts: Then and


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California Droughts: Then and Now


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Erico Matias Tavares

August 21, 2014

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August 21, 2014


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Thirsty For Investments In Water


August 8, 2014

The obstinate drought in California is showing no signs of letting up, and is now being
compared to the last major drought which took place during 1976 and 1977.
Back then, the state was not as well equipped to cope with severe dryness. The sharp decline
of surface water supplies coupled with the lack of backup reservoirs and waterways caused a
lot of damage to the states agriculture, in particular to the livestock industry. As it turned out,
the drought reversed itself completely a year later, and California powered on to become the
major agro-industrial player it is today.

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Jigar Shah
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The State water plan shows that dependable water supplies will not provide for State needs
through the year 2000, even if certain conditions are met. These conditions include
completion of planned federal, State, and local surface and groundwater projects, as well as
reclamation and reuse of wastewater. To compensate, more groundwater will have to be
extracted than is replaced. Continued, excessive extraction of groundwater can lead to land
subsistence, poor water quality, and high energy costs as pumping depths increase.

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But actions were undertaken to improve efficiency and significantly boost infrastructure, and
with generally favorable precipitation patterns water supplies have lasted well beyond the year
2000. Yet another example of Californias engineering and ingenuity.

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However, the current drought may get much trickier if we dont see a sharp reversal in rainfall
patterns soon (which is conceivable given the hydro-climatic variability of the southwest).

The Wild West was conquered by enterprising and optimistic pioneers, and successive water
rights officials in California seem to have inherited those qualities in spades. According to a
recent study by Theodore Grantham and Joshua Viers, both from the University of California,
water right allocations total almost *five times* the states mean annual runoff, and account
for up to 1000% of natural surface water supplies in the major river basins.
It seems that there is a conflict brewing as () the state simply does not have accurate
knowledge of how much water is being used by most water rights holders. As such, it is
nearly impossible to curtail or re-allocate water in an equitable manner among water users
and to effectively manage for environmental water needs.

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Jason Thibeault
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At the height of the drought, predictions about Californias water future were just as dire as the
ones we are hearing today. Heres an interesting snippet from a U.S. Government
Accountability Office report published in October 1977:

Climate models predict that California could become warmer and drier in the future. So the
weather may turn out to be much less cooperative than suggested by recent history. There
are 23 million more people now than in the late 1970s and virtually every drop of water is
accounted for. And the agricultural industry, the states largest consumer of water, is of
course much bigger today.

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The stakes are very high now and out-of-the-box solutions are needed. Otherwise this time
might turn out to be different indeed.

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Erico Matias Tavares


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