As a native Californian and the daughter of a farming family, I’ve paid attention to the weather in California for much of my life. I left when I was in my mid-twenties, but during the years I spent in the bitter cold northeast I kept track of California’s rain fall totals, the shifts of El Niño and La Niña, and the average temperatures just as I had when I live there.
Since I moved to the desert some 16 years ago, I’ve done the same. When my mother passed away in February 2012, I thought that might change. She and I talked on the phone often and the weather was always a topic of conversation as were times of peach and prune blossoms, walnut and kiwi harvests, times for irrigating and plowing and planting. But while conversations about the weather and crops diminished, the attention I paid to those things didn’t. I suppose it’s become a habit, something I do without really even thinking about it.
But my home state is facing the worst drought in over 119 years (that’s more than a century, folks), and I wish more people were paying attention. That’s right folks, California is in a drought of historic proportions. Gov. Jerry Brown, who, by the way was also the Governor when I was a 70’s child, declared a state of emergency last month, and my farming friends are scrambling to figure out how to save their crops. Oh, and feed the word.
Recently California’s municipal water system announced it can’t get water to farmers. That’s, of course, bad news for farmers, but it is also bad news for the US since California farmers supply over half of America’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. President Obama is now involved pledged $183 million in existing federal funds for drought relief programs in the state. As President Obama noted,
A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher.
California Republicans will hear none of the climate change talk. Representative Devin Nunes who represents Fresno,attributes California’s water crisis not to weather, but to interference by the federal government. He says, “Global warming is nonsense” and says
“There was plenty of water. This has nothing to do with drought. They can blame global warming all they want, but this is about mathematics and engineering.”
I urge Representative Nunes and other climate change deniers to explain how “mathematics and engineering” explain this
This is Folsom Lake near Sacramento. California. The picture on the left was taken in July 2011 and the one on the right in February 2014 (NASA). When I saw these pictures, my heart sank. None of the stories I’ve read and none of the statistics or conversations with my northern California friends brought the severity of the drought home to me as these pictures did. In the 2011 picture, Folsom is at about 97% capacity; in 2014 it is at 11% capacity. I’ve been water skiing in that lake; now I could walk around in it. Lakes and the dams that create them are at the heart of California’s water supply. Snow falls in the mountains of norther California melt as the temperatures rise in spring and fill the creeks and rivers that eventually make their way into lakes and reservoirs. Dams hold that water, releasing various cubic feet of it now and then to produce important stuff like power and water for municipalities and crops. No snow in the Sierra means no water in important places like Lake Oroville, just about 12 miles from where I grew up, whose dam is the tallest in the world at 742 feet, Folsom Lake, Bullards Bar, Lake Shasta, and others. And as the image below shows, another from NASA, there hasn’t been much snow this year in northern California.
So while much of the country is piled deeper and deeper in snow and ice, the west, particularly California, Nevada, and Arizona, are experiencing above normal temperatures and below normal percipitation. So while much of the country deals with raging flood waters whenever spring comes to those areas, the west will dry up and begin blowing away much as did the panhandlers of Texas and Oklahoma and areas of Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and elsewhere. The Dust Bowl affected some 100,000,000 acres and forced more than tens of thousands of families to abandon their homes.
I don’t know if or when another dust bowl is coming but it’s certainly a possibility.In the meantime, we’re all going to be paying more for our food because the farmers of California will have to leave their land fallow. If you’ve never read Frank Norris’s The Octopus: A Story of California, I recommend doing so now. I have no doubt the people of the west will once again engage in water wars. It is simply a matter of time.
No one is sure how climate change will play out in this country or in the world, but denying it’s happening is like jumping off a 10-story building in denial of gravity. It’s here, and unless we do something to change emissions levels in the next 15-20 years or so, there will be no going back.
Note: as I was writing this entry, many of my northern California friends were posting notices of tornado warnings north of Sacramento; there have been warnings like this during the summer for the last few years, and one touched down near Durham, CA, pulling out thousands of prune trees and toppling several grain silos; this is the first time a tornado warning has been released in March. I spent the first 25 years of my life living in northern California and never once heard a tornado warning.