Analyzing Drought in California Causes and Impacts

California –Causes and Impacts

What is drought and why does it occur

The phenomenon of drought is regarded as an inescapable, cyclic hazard, and its build-up is gradual. The quantity of stream flow and precipitation, or degree of deficiency in groundwater that may cause drought in any given area might not have the same consequences in another area. This is because it is dependent of the quantity and type of water required, as well as alternative water supplies found within a region in any given time period. While the development of drought has already had significant impacts in the 21st century, it might now also be turning increasingly frequent. Drought cases across the world have increased, caused possibly by technological advancements in food production and shelter techniques, and in basic service provision, leading to massive food production and human settlement concentrations that are almost reaching or surpassing natural resource sources’ capacities (Woo 129). Prior to mitigation of its impacts, one has to identify its onset. Longer-term weather forecasts are yet to succeed, and have suffered obstructions by the recent increased weather variability. Thus, focus has moved to establishing drought indexes, since drought thresholds help identify its onset.

Causes of droughts in California

The phenomenon of drought is a common occurrence in the state of California, resulting in damages of up to several billion dollars in one single year of drought, and affecting different stakeholders across the state. Changes in climate are associated with the state’s drought crisis, through the following mechanisms: i) increasing temperatures and ii) alterations to atmospheric patterns that contribute to diminishing rainfall. Global warming, towards which human emissions contribute significantly, is said to intensify California droughts by 15-20%. Since the year 2011, four continuous failed rainy seasons have contributed to acute moisture deficits in the state, depleting groundwater and decreasing agricultural productivity (Seager 7015). California’s present drought situation has heavily burdened statewide water resources and agriculture, aggravated further by simultaneous extremely-high temperatures (Lingyin 111).

Impact of drought in California

Normally, the state of California acquires a majority of its supply of freshwater from a few big autumn and winter storms, which effectively fill its lowland water reservoirs and unload large quantities of snow onto the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where frozen water is released slowly in the melting period. This small, yet valuable, number of storms provides sufficient water to the state’s several million inhabitants with drinking water, as well as water for bathing, flushing toilets, filling swimming pools, washing their cars, and watering lawns. Further, these storms aid oil companies in hydraulic fracturing, farmers in growing crops, and golf courses in remaining green. To put it briefly, they facilitate the miraculous existence of the hydrologic civilization of California, perched between ocean and desert.

Californians typically utilize 150 to 200 gallons (about 568 to 757 liters) of water on a daily basis. This is approximately five times the amount utilized by residents of sun-parched regions. However, the last 4 years have proven hard on Californians, with the “malfunctioning” of its large rain-and-snowfall dumps, on which it so heavily relies. Water utilities all over the U.S., and especially in the State of California, have been facing pressure to increase their revenue by selling more water. More than 71% of California has been encountering extreme conditions of drought, while 46% is suffering from exceptional drought, which constitutes the severest category of drought. This intense drought has strained fresh water supplies and contributed to wildfires across many areas of California. In spite of the wider economic recovery from its collapse in the year 2008, UC Davis research scholars estimated, in a report published in July 2014, that drought would lead to a loss of 17,000 part-time and seasonal jobs in California. This year will probably be equally bad for the state (Seager 7010).

Impact of wildfires in California

Unusual dryness has made many areas across water-depleted California susceptible to wildfire. The state witnessed over 40 fires in the previous year, charring over 500,000 acres of land. The most devastating fire in California’s history was the one that sparked in California Valley that, according to insurance claims, claimed four lives, burned down no less than 75,000 acres of land, and wrecked over 1,900 structures, which included 1,200 houses. The adverse impacts of drought, flooding, and wildfires can be felt all over the U.S., since the state produces 50% of the vegetables and fruits consumed within the nation. Furthermore, the state draws several hundred thousand native as well as foreign tourists annually for fishing, recreation, skiing, and camping. The U.S. Senate and House have together initiated a federal act — the 2015 Wildfire Disaster Funding Act — for revising the inadequate current funding of wildfire problems. This legislation would enable application of budget limit adjustment for helping states finance wildfire suppression initiatives in the very same way that they receive funds for covering costs associated with other natural calamities — floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes (Morandi 27).

Link between drought and climate change

Yearly precipitation in the state of California is found to more variable compared to all other states, and is influenced strongly by winter precipitation. One basic question raised by those concerned is whether or not low precipitation during certain months constitutes an indication or a sign of impending annual drought in the state. In the water year Oct. 2013 to Sept. 2014, western U.S. precipitation (especially that in California state), was much lower than the long-term mean (Shukla 2273). Most recent researches into potential climate change in western USA midway through this century, stemming from global warming caused by high atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, project increased aridity across much of west USA. Many research works have arrived at the conclusion that southwestern U.S. is vulnerable to significant future drying, believed to be caused largely by the global warming problem (Diaz 4648).

Measures adopted by local and state governments to mitigate drought impacts

Early on, last year, Californian Legislature took definitive bipartisan action through its passing of a set of emergency state bills which fast-tracked one billion dollars in drought financing under the financial-year 2016 budget proposed by the Governor. Combined with Proposition revenue (the Proposition is a 7.5-billion-dollar electorate-approved water-bond initiative, which received approval in November of 2014), the finances will sponsor safe potable water as well as water recycling ventures, flood control, food relief to impacted communities, and wildlife and fish survival initiatives for increasing resiliency of water supply structure. For offering relief from drought in California, as well as for serving other functions, the 2015 Western Water and American Food Security Act was passed as the policy in response to Western USA’s present droughts. It would decrease federal regulations with regard to water policy in numerous ways, whilst offering increased flexibility as a response of the federal government to emergencies concerning drought. The bill was approved in the U.S. House on 16th July, 2015 and will go next to the Senate for deliberation (Morandi 27).


Arid regions’ residents are more accustomed to possible drought than inhabitants of humid regions are. Drought hazard adjustments include: (1) cause modification (weather modification, for instance); (2) hazard modification (for instance, water storage, groundwater use, desalination, inter-basin transfer, wastewater recycling, and emergency supplies; and (3) loss potential modification (increased accuracy in allocation and monitoring via pricing, leak repair, metering, and water-recycling and water-saving equipment) (Woo 132). Efficiency of water use constitutes a critical element for management of water supplies/resource (Rodriguez 8). In the long run, sustained population rise and the challenge of creating new feasible sources of water will require responsible use of existing resource. Water districts have to continue promoting efficient water use as well as carefully developing demand forecasts for the long run, under planning efforts. Significantly, more equitable water-sharing is needed, and governments have to guarantee access through a public, non-profit service supply. All over the state, water needs to be declared as public trust, which must be managed and protected for the good of the public (Deister 51). The endeavor involves priority placement on limited supply access (particularly groundwater), and forbidding private control or ownership of water resource. In summary, water should be acknowledged as humanity’s and the future generations’ common heritage.


Deister, Ane D. “Working Toward an Active National Drought Policy.” Journal of American

Water Works Association. 93.3 (2001): 48-57. Print.

Diaz, Henry F. “Recent California Water Year Precipitation Deficits: A 440-Year Perspective.”

Journal of Climate 28.12 (2015): 4637-4652. Print.

Lingyin, Cheng. “How Has Human-Induced Climate Change Affected California Drought Risk?”

Journal of Climate 29.1 (2016): 111-120. Print.

Morandi, Larry. “Parched! Extreme Weather and Limited Resources Complicate the West’s

Battle against Devastating Drought and Wildfires.” State Legislatures 41.10 (2015): 26-29. Print.

Rodriguez, Lynn Anderson. “Viewpoint: Promoting Efficient Water Use.” Journal of American

Water Works Association 88.1 (1996): 8-9. Print.

Shukla, Shraddhanand. ” Annual Drought in California: Association with Monthly Precipitation

and Climate Phases.” Journal of Applied Meteorology & Climatology 54.11 (2015):

2273-2281. Print.

Seager, Richard. “Causes of the 2011-14 California Drought.” Journal of Climate 28.18 (2015):

6997-7024. Print.

Woo, Viviane. “Drought Management: Expecting the Unexpected.” Journal of American Water

Works Association 74.3 (1982): 126-131. Print.

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