California receives a break from the drought, but problems lie ahead

Rivers are flowing, reservoirs are filling and mountains are greening; all normal signs of winter, but this year California rejoices.

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Since January 2013, California has been under drought conditions, when 2013 was its third consecutive below normal water year. On January 17, 2014 California was declared in a drought state of emergency by Jerry Brown. In 2014, California only received 49 percent of the historical average.

From October 2016 to January 2017, California’s rainfall rose and in San Luis Obispo, it received 167 percent of the average rainfall, and that is not including February’s rainfall total.

On February 7, Cal Poly received 1.08 inches, the highest of the surrounding areas. Santa Barbara only received one tenth of an inch.

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Amount of precipitation received in inches in Central California (WY means water year). Chart by National Weather Service.

Areas such as Eureka received 163 percent of its average rainfall, but other areas are not doing as well. Toward the end of December, California’s reservoirs held 98 percent of their historic average. But Santa Barbara’s Lake Cachuma is still only 15 percent full, 7 percent higher than what it was recorded at in the beginning of January.

Although California is experiencing rainfalls, there are drastic effects remaing because of the drought. Over 100 million trees died from the drought and this will cause an increase in landslides and wildfires. Cal Poly Conservation Professor Lisa Needles says that since there is more grass present from this rainy season, it could lead to bigger fires during the fire season.

Groundwater, which has been used as 60 percent of California’s water supply since 2015, is suffering drastic consequences from the drought. Groundwater is water that is pumped from underground from aquifers, and since it is classified as a public good, there are no regulations behind it.

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Joseph Poland in the San Joaquin Valley in 1977. | Photo by U.S. Geological Survey.

During each drought, when water is pumped from underground, the aquifers begin to collapse making them smaller and unable to hold as much water for future years which was discovered by Joseph Poland. Even if groundwater was immediately stopped, it is estimated that it would take at least 50 years for it to naturally regenerate.

On Wednesday, February 11, the California Department of Water Resources released a new NASA report stating that the San Joaquin Valley is continuing to sink, which is caused by the immense amount of water being pumped from the aquifers.

Although California is receiving an abundance of rain this season, it is important to look toward the future, says Needles. Needles also brought up how the drought is correlated with climate change saying:

“Climate change isn’t about no rain, it is about having longer periods of drought and harsher rainy seasons.”

If that is the case, then when it rains, we shouldn’t rejoice and forget our problems of yesterday because those still will be the problems of our future.

Featured photo from Public Domain

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