Two Images Tell the Tale of California’s Terrifying Drought

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California is experiencing an epic drought. Paul Rogers reports for the San Jose Mercury News that some communities could actually run out of water in the next few months if the Golden State doesn’t get some rain:

In some communities, wells are running dry. In others, reservoirs are nearly empty. Some have long-running problems that predate the drought.

The water systems, all in rural areas, serve from 39 to 11,000 residents. They range from the tiny Lompico County Water District in Santa Cruz County to districts that serve the cities of Healdsburg and Cloverdale in Sonoma County.

And it could get a lot worse.

“As the drought goes on, there will be more that probably show up on the list,” said Dave Mazzera, acting drinking-water division chief for the state Department of Public Health.

Most of the affected water districts have so few customers that they can’t charge enough money to pay for backup water supplies or repair failing equipment, leaving them more vulnerable to drought than large urban areas.

California accounts for almost 12 percent of the nation’s agricultural production. As the PBS NewsHour put it, the dry spell “could mean bad news at the grocery store.”

At i09, Annalee Newitz offers two satellite images that show how dry it is. The first was taken a few days ago. The second shows the same territory last year. Newitz writes, “Note the radically different snow cover, and how the valley areas are a barren brown instead of a deep green.”

Image: NASA's Earth Observatory

Image: NASA's Earth Observatory

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  • Jack Wolf

    It’s all about climate change, Bill. Connect the dots please.

  • Anonymous

    Disruption of the typical air currents has had the same effect on Norway.

  • Anonymous

    Californians have consistently rejected taking salt out of the water because it would take tax to do so. What do they want?

  • Anonymous

    No it is about money.

  • Jack Wolf

    Right. However, the public needs to know the relationship of this and the many extreme events as they relate to climate change. Without adequate information, the public is going to make a lot of bad decisions, like moving to the southwest or the coast for example, or even rebuilding the NJ coast. I certainly do not want to stop anyone from their plans, but they need to be able to make an informed decision and understand the consequences of their actions. Many scientists now indicate that a 5C (7F) rise by 2050 is likely and that these effects are irreversible. This should give people (and businesses) pause because this is outside the scope of human existence.

  • Anonymous

    True.

  • Anonymous

    Its known that removing salt from the oceans over time upsets the delicate balance of salinity that many ocean animals and plants count on to survive..Including whales, and on down the chain of life.

    It doesn’t make sense that we, in an effort to survive our mistakes, keep making more..

  • Just Wondering

    its about climate change…. but its about the war that has happened in California over water and big agriculture which uses massive amounts of it and money usually wins out over people….

  • Anonymous

    there is going to be a lot of empty real estate when food is scarce and people starts dying by the hundreds of thousands.

  • Anonymous

    We are so screwed. And while this is going on our political “leadership” does next to nothing. They are going to make Nero look like a hero before this is all over.

  • Keith

    Go into the water business, it will pay better than oil pretty soon

  • Kenneth Keith

    Seems like the massive Agra biz should pay to build the projects to remove salt from water and leave the other systems to the citizens. The Agra biz can then expand at any rate they are able to provide their own water. They are going to pass the cost off to the consumer anyway you look at it.

  • Scott

    IT is REAL expensive to build the kinds of plants needed to remove the SALT from sea water! Water that way would NOT be affordable to the average CA citizen. AND what does one do with the growing piles of SALT…. can’t put it back in the sea, can’t put it on the land, can’t stop taking salt out of the earth-those guys need JOBS too!!!!!!

  • Roger Cone

    And look what we are allowing to happen to the water in WV and all over the US and especially of XL pipeline gets completed.

  • Roger Cone

    De-salinization on a large scale is not a solution and certainly doesn’t fix the real problem. And besides, what do you do with all the salt? It mostly destroys anything it comes in contact with. Except for sea creatures that don’t need a higher concentration. No more coal, no XL. Solar and wind are beneficial but conservation is the key.

  • Anonymous

    That’s why companies like Monsanto and Nestle are buying up water rights around the world..They believe it should be a commodity and they will be happy to provide it, for a cost… They see the future, and it doesn’t look good.

  • Keith

    XL pipeline doesn’t endanger water any more than the other millions of miles of pipelines.

  • Keith

    T Boone Pickens bought three counties water rights so he is positioned for the big pay off

  • Russell

    By the billions rather. It starts with starvation, then disease and pestilence take even more. Governments collapse. Millions more are left without basic food, water, electricity, gas, and factor in roaming gangs of people. I’m glad I’m so old.

  • musicandart

    But it will pollute the water they have, because there will be spills and accidents. We don’t hear about that because Big Oil suppresses that information.

  • musicandart

    Most of the pressure on private citizens to conserve, conserve, be rationed and pay the premium for scarce water is so that Big Agribusiness and corporate farms can have all the water they want without limitation.

  • musicandart

    It does change but the data shows that we have affected that, unfortunately not in a good way, as never before, both in kind and in degree. I hope that in this century we will develop technology to reverse that, but right now it looks as if there’s no going back.

  • Anonymous

    Biblical?

  • Jack Wolf

    Reports indicated that the number of underground leaks is grossly understated basically because they can’t see it. They determined this by looking at pipeline loss rates. Nothing magically disappears.

  • Jack Wolf

    You need to look at photos of their mine sites and listen to accounts from their First Nation neighbors.

  • Jack Wolf

    I’ll take the respected opinions at the National Academies, NASA, the MET, the NSF, the Tyndall Center, Max Plank Institute, our National Labs and our Military rather than someone named Mike if that’s alright with you. They all seem to think climate change is already occurring and that it’s because of fossil fuels. And that the change is so big as to be something that humans have never faced before. We will be stepping back millions of years into a hot house world. But, thanks for your opinion.

  • Jack Wolf

    I hate to tell you, but it already started. Thinker1958 and you might has well described areas in Africa and the Mid East. There were even riots this past month in S American when the government had to ration electricity in another record breaking heat wave. Pakistan too is at risk, especially if India reduces the flow to the rivers that feed Pakistan’s farmlands. It’s going to get really, really ugly and its all going to stem from climate change. We go from Soylent Green to On the Beach to The Road in a matinee lineup that’s coming to a theater near you.

  • Triton Scott

    Funny isn’t it. Americans think money and bombs can supply everything, in “mass quantities” (apologies Larraine Newman). So where are we gonna send our precious troops off to mass murder when our faucets run dry ?!

  • Jack Wolf

    There may be an unrealized problem here if that’s the way you feel.

  • Jack Wolf

    That bugs me too. Another conservation measure for people with gardens is rain collection barrels. I placed my vegetable garden downslope of one, attached a hose, and bingo. I used that water on the shade trees I recently planted too.

  • LEK56

    Talk to the Saudi’s or the Emirate’s who desalinate. The tech is there, but no, we’d rather build pipelines to carry sludge across the aquifers. We are not just doomed, we’re idiots.

  • Triton Scott

    Excellent idea! The whole concept of “smart conservation” and “living within our means” is anathema to Californians. So, to keep our millions of lavish lawns and shimmering swimming pools, let’s spend umpteen billions on DeSal plants, hulking energy-consuming structures which will look fabulous all up & down our coast !

  • Jack Wolf

    There is a high salt concentration in desal water – the common limit is up to 5000 mg/l. This may make it unsuitable for plants. Irrigation tends to cause salt accumulations in the soil which kills plants. That’s what happened in many ancient civilizations that collapsed – like Mesopotamia. If irrigation water is briny and of limited supply and the climate hotter on top of that, then food production is sure to be negatively affected. I found this from UC on the web:

    About 4.5 million acres of irrigated cropland in California (more than half the total) are affected to some degree by soil salinization (Letey 2000). Most of the seriously affected acreage is in the Imperial Valley in Southern California and the Western San Joaquin Valley in Central California. A certain level of salinity exists in all untreated irrigation water, although this natural salinity tends to be low in California. Most crops take up little salt, so the evapotranspiration process concentrates salt in the soil. A semi-arid climate exacerbates the degree and rate of salinization because the state’s main agricultural areas receive relatively little precipitation and have high evapotranspiration rates. This is especially true in the Imperial Valley, which coincidentally meets its water demand from the Colorado River, the most saline irrigation water in the state

  • Jack Wolf

    I think that’s for his fracking ventures.

  • Jack Wolf

    You might want to listen to Dr. Guy McPherson if you haven’t already. I think you’re ready for what he has to say. He is only one of many scientists that hold the view that it’s over.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, It does considering that it’s not built yet. Adding to the pile does more harm.

  • Keith

    much of it is already in place. The oil is already going to Texas on rail cars now

  • Keith

    Thanks for the article, my family settled that area along the Canadian River

  • Keith

    That is just so much bull crap, no one can suppress information in todays information age,

  • Keith

    I guess that is some kind of logic,

  • Keith

    Why do I need to look at that? I know what they do to the land to get that oil, I also know that no matter what anyone does that Canada and the people that own the resources will sell them to some one. It is still cleaner than coal and everyone is still mining coal.

  • Keith

    because beef is tasty

  • Keith

    Your statement is such bull crap it could be used for fertilizer.

  • CorporateHeadquarters

    Feb. 2 Our Universe is abundant. We have all the resources we will ever need. Let’s not waste our natural resources foolishly.

  • Anonymous

    Canada.

  • John Kessler

    …until it ruptures (and it will eventually do just that) and poisons formerly good water.

  • Triton Scott

    LOL .. I wouldn’t put it past us ! “Hey Mountie, step aside, or be blasted by our super-duper drones. We’re coming for your glaciers!”

  • Keith

    I don’t like grass fed beef, I am a rancher. I do not like lean beef either. Fat in your meat has little to do with the obesity epidemic. Eating processed foods with High Fructose Corn Syrup is half of the problem
    I do agree with part of your statement, beef that is fed for many months in a feed lot is very wasteful.
    I had a Beefalo steer at the Houston Livestock show in 1972 from our place. Problem with them back then was getting the meat into the retail stream. Private sales were all we could do. It is much better now.

  • Keith

    No it is for agriculture and people. Actually he just sold it to the Canadian River authority so it is now a public resource.

  • Keith

    We are not over populated, famine and hunger in the world today is caused by politics and war

  • Anonymous

    Of course, no one wants to do the sensible things of stopping all illegal immigration to California, even though Jerry Brown defends the Crazy Train by arguing that millions of new residents will move to the central valley in this century. What does the governor expect these thirsty new residents from Mexico do for nonexistent water – drink their own urine?

  • Anonymous

    Your naiveness is embarrassing. It has been reported in numerous national news reports that the oil spills and accidents in North Dakota go unreported due to industry pressure. Be responsible and get your info from more then one site.

  • Anonymous

    As a country we have the opportunity with the Keystone pipeline to put our foot down and say no to more fossil fuel. Let’s do all in our power to add methane and carbon emissions to the atmosphere. This is a responsibility that every living person bears.

  • http://wonderwheels.blogspot.com/ Gregory Wonderwheel

    Since Pete Seeger passed along, to remember both him and his testament of environmental concern we can sing, “Where have all the snowflakes gone, long time ago?”

  • Carol Wright

    There are some here who are turning this severe water crisis into a racist self entitled righteous punishing direction. Shallow and punishing. Water, NO water, is the great equalizer…and brings out the worst of humanity. There is one commenter here whose cruelty makes me retch. I hope the moderators will remove the comment, though it does once again show the punishing “father figure” behavior and attacks the far right has embraced.

  • Keith

    can’t stand the truth so you had my comment removed.

  • moderator

    Keith,

    Your comment was removed because of profanity. Please read our comment policy before commenting again, or you will be unable to participate in the community.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • moderator

    Carol,

    If you find a comment offensive, please flag it for further moderation.

    thanks,
    Sean @ Moyers

  • Carol Wright

    ok I did just flag the offending message.

  • Anonymous

    Nice spin. This isnt about immigrants Mr. Fearful. This is about climate change caused in part by mans spewing of toxins into the air and the water.

  • Anonymous

    Industrial agriculture flagrantly wastes water and needs to stop irrigating alfalfa fields. Big corporate farms should not receive water subsidies. Even modest changes to agricultural practices could vastly reduce water waste. People can stop watering golf courses and lawns, and mulch properly. Homeowners can install grey-water systems and low flow toilets. Agitate!

  • Keith

    I don’t recall that. Is there a list of restricted words? I have been posting a long time, I thought I knew what they were. I will be more aware of it in the future.

  • Keith

    Also, I believe that Disqus is the most civil discussion site on the internet and I like it that way, I will be more aware in the future.

  • Keith

    I am not going to sacrifice anything because hunger in the world today is a result of politics or war, not lack of good food or the ability to supply it.

  • Kathryn Hildebrandt

    Other than the Governor Brown’s authority to place an immediate ban on hydraulic fracturing, which uses and poisons 1.4 billion gallons of water in CA per year, which he has thus far refused to do, you mean?

  • Karl Schachter

    I would say this is an indicator of global warming/climate change. The dynamic we are witnessing is overwhelmingly man-made. The forces responsible for this cannot operate with any long-term vision of the health of humanity and our planet. Yet, they rule the world. The guidance of the Great Law of the Iroquois Federation should inform all our undertakings. But, it doesn’t enter the equation for the powers that be:

    “In all of your deliberations…in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self-interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do,.. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations…”

    Oren Lyons, Chief of the Onondaga Nation, writes: “We are looking ahead , as is one of the first mandates given us as chiefs, to make sure and to make every decision that we make relate to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come. . . .” “What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?”