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 Map of the United States showing intensity of drought
California, on the west coast, shows intensities D3 & D4


According to data released on September 4, 2014, by the U.S. Drought Monitor, California, with an estimated population of over 38.3 million, leads the nation with 82 percent of the state facing extreme to exceptional drought. Water scarcity is dire in the Central Valley where half of America’s fruits and vegetables are grown.

On January 17, 2014, California’s State Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought State of Emergency. He called on all state officials to take every action necessary to prepare for water shortages. (Learn more at California Drought.)

Based on NASA’s satellite observations, the UCCHM Water Advisory published a preliminary report, February 3, 2014, on water storage changes in California’s river basins. During the period October 2003 to March 2010, the river basins lost fresh water equivalent to nearly the full volume of Lake Mead.

Drought in Folsom Lake - Northern California - 2011 and 2014Drought in Folsom Lake – Reservoir in Northern California
July 20, 2011 (97% total capacity) & January 16, 2014 (17% capacity)
Photo Credit: California Department of Water Resources

On July 15, following Governor Brown’s Executive Order, the Water Resources Control Board issued Emergency Regulation, making water restrictions mandatory for water utilities under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Californians have to cut water use by 20 percent. To water outdoor landscapes, resulting in excess runoff, and hose down driveways and sidewalks are prohibited. Only fountains or other decorative features with a water recirculation system are permitted. Hoses used for washing a motor vehicle must have a shut-off nozzle. Outdoor irrigation of ornamental landscapes or turfs is limited to no more than two days per week. Violations are punishable by a fine of up to US$500 for each day in which the violations occur.

Restrictions will remain in effect for 270 days.

Here in the city of Los Angeles, with an estimated population of 3.8 million, 40 percent of our water is used for landscape irrigation. In their News Release on August 18, 2014, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power included additional water restrictions. We can water our gardens and lawns for up to three days per week: odd addresses on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; even addresses on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. No watering is allowed between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

Our Water Conservation Response Unit has four staff members with specially marked vehicles for patrolling the city. Their function is more one of spreading awareness of water waste, rather than policing and imposing fines. Since 2007, Los Angeles has reduced its water use by 17 percent. Water use in July 2014 fell 4.4 percent compared to July 2013.

“We always have drought,” a neighbor told me. “El Nino will bring rain and everything will return to normal.”

Meanwhile, as surface water dries up, our farmers in the Central Valley have resorted to pumping more groundwater. Prices of fruits and vegetables have increased. Our infrastructure needs updating. In July, a 90-year-old water main ruptured in Los Angeles, spewing out 20 million gallons of precious water.

With climate change affecting rainfall and snowfall on America’s west coast and other states, our political leaders cannot continue to drag their feet in reducing carbon emissions.