Lessons from the California Drought

drought land with green grass blue sky landscape background

The California drought has been in the news for quite some time, which is not surprising given that it is one of the most disastrous and persistent droughts in recent history. The drought has had a major impact on the drinking water supplies of the 38 million people living in California. According to recent studies, approximately 80% of the California population is experiencing severe or extreme drought conditions. The governor of the state has even asked restaurants to stop serving water unless specifically requested, and water fines of up to $500 a day have been introduced to prevent water wastage.

As you can imagine, the California drought is affecting farming and industrial enterprises in addition to municipal water supplies. Farmers in the Central Valley are watching their wells dry up, and many are struggling to meet irrigation demands. These farmers stand to lose approximately $810 million this year alone because of the impact the drought has had on their produce. In addition, the price of fruits and vegetables has increased substantially.

In a recent profile of the California drought, NPR’s Planet Money team investigated some of the strange and unforeseen economic consequences of the price increases for water-intensive crops. Click here to listen to their report.

In order to meet municipal, agricultural, and industrial demands for water consumption, industries are increasingly drilling into groundwater supplies, resulting in the rapid depletion of a critical aquifer while causing the ground in the Central Valley to sink in some areas. Meanwhile, the drought is also causing fish evacuations and wildfires. In 2014 alone, there were a total of 3,400 wildfires in the area, a 36% increase over the five-year average.

Such an extreme drought happens approximately once every 50 years; however, according to experts, we might expect them to become more frequent due to climate change. So, what have we learned from the California drought? One thing is certain: the restricted water supply doesn’t just affect the urban population; it has a much more global impact with severe negative consequences for critical farming and production activities. As the impacts of climate change become more pronounced, adaptive water resource management techniques will need to be developed in order to prepare for future drought conditions in other regions. Visit the United Nation’s website to learn more about global water scarcity issues.

About the Author:

Eric Boles is a sustainability professional and one of the founding principals of Paradigm Sustainability Solutions. Visit our website to learn more about how you can partner with Paradigm to improve your organization’s sustainability performance.