R.I.P. California (1850-2016) (March 22, 2015)
What We’ll Lose And Learn From The World’s First Major Water Collapse
Last week when NASA announced that California is on its death bed and has only 12 months of water left, the news hit like a punch to the gut.
Data from NASA satellites show that the total amount of water stored in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins — that is, all of the snow, river and reservoir water, water in soils and groundwater combined — was 34 million acre-feet below normal in 2014. That loss is nearly 1.5 times the capacity of Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir, writes Jay Famiglietti of NASA.
Statewide, we’ve been dropping more than 12 million acre-feet of total water yearly since 2011. Roughly two-thirds of these losses are attributable to groundwater pumping for agricultural irrigation in the Central Valley. Farmers have little choice but to pump more groundwater during droughts, especially when their surface water allocations have been slashed 80% to 100%. But these pumping rates are excessive and unsustainable. Wells are running dry. In some areas of the Central Valley, the land is sinking by one foot or more per year.
Tensions are high in the state, and small conflicts are breaking out as people are beginning to steal water from others. Caroline Stanley of Refinery 29 writes:
As Tom McKay points out, the water crisis will likely have the biggest impact on the state’s agricultural community — which currently accounts for a whopping 80% of its water usage. (According to Carolee Krieger, president and executive director of the California Water Impact Network, the almond crop alone uses enough water to supply 75 percent of the state’s population.) But, recently, your average citizens are feeling it, too. People in the Bay Area are actually stealing water from their neighbors.
From another perspective, the North American food supply will also suffer a devastating blow because the state’s agricultural production zone is smack dab in the middle of the drought’s most severely hit area. And not only will California’s farming industry come to a screeching halt — the little water that is left will be so filled with toxins and pollutants that it will be undrinkable for local residents. Mother Jones put together an eye-opening set of infographics which paint a disturbing picture, and you can study them below.
Mother Jones also points out that the lifeblood groundwater Californians are surviving on is 20,000 years old. Tom Knudson writes:
Such water is not just old. It’s prehistoric. It is older than the earliest pyramids on the Nile, older than the world’s oldest tree, the bristlecone pine. It was swirling down rivers and streams 15,000 to 20,000 years ago when humans were crossing the Bering Strait from Asia. Tapping such water is more than a scientific curiosity. It is one more sign that some parts of California are living beyond nature’s means, with implications that could ripple into the next century and beyond as climate change turns the region warmer and robs moisture from the sky. ‘What I see going on is a future disaster. You are removing water that’s been there a long, long time. And it will probably take a long time to replace it. We are mining water that cannot be readily replaced,’ said Vance Kennedy, a 91-year-old retired research hydrologist in the Central Valley.
Source: Feel Guide