Water Drenched California Not Out of the Clear from the Drought

Titles such as “Strongest Storms in Years Soak California” and “Wet winter banishes Northern California drought, fills North Bay reservoirs” are a common trend for news articles this winter and spring. With previous years of diminished snowpack’s and precipitation amounts, the winter of 2016–2017 brought a forgotten sense of precipitation back to the state of California. The state had been battling a several year long drought that was felt and experienced all throughout the state that had made headline news all over the world. Entire towns were left without water. Lakes essentially turned to puddles, reports of wells running dry by the thousands, and of the cracked ground above depleted aquifers experienced and seen by land subsidence sinking several feet a year in regions of the Central Valley dominated state headline news articles and media news. The hype of the so called El Nino for the winter of 2015–2016 had provided dismal precipitation relief to the area and forced another year with water restrictions and drought like conditions. However the news articles for the winter of 2016–2017 would portray a much different take on the water situation in California. The sight of sand bags and road closures due to flooding and whiteout conditions would be a common scene this winter. The state actually had an abundance of precipitation through the form of snow and rain at times during large storms that caused major flooding and snowpocalypse conditions as a result of “too much” precipitation. With the recent surplus of precipitation back into the state and a well above average snowpack, residents have felt a sense of relief and optimism about the end of a drought stricken era recently experienced. As many people this winter viewed our once barren emptied reservoirs and dwindling low flow rivers change and improve to swift flooding rivers and spillways being utilized on reservoirs for the first time in years, paints an overall image in their mindset that essentially the drought should be declared over. Water restrictions should be cut back or eliminated and that water conservation efforts should be forgotten about.

While there is some truth to this concept, groundwater levels are still a major concern for the state of California. Water conservation efforts should not be swept under the rug and forgotten about, but instead continue to be implemented and improved on if we want to conserve and sustain a viable fresh water source in the state. With the ever changing climate we are experiencing, it is essential to manage our resources in a sustainable way and promote efficient and conservative water consumptions methods as a daily routine built into society.

When you break down the overall aspect and forms of water about 71% of the Earth is covered in water. The oceans hold about 96.5% of all Earth’s water present in the form of salt water. The reaming 2.5% is available freshwater that include glaciers and icecaps that account for the abundance of fresh water at 68.7% t followed by groundwater at 30.1% and last but not least surface water at a staggering 1.2%.

When we look at the overall picture of “Where is Earth’s Water,” we can determine that majority of usable fresh water for consumption, agriculture, and industrial uses comes from below the surface of the Earth through the common process of pumping and extraction of groundwater.

California a predominantly dominated agricultural state and having the largest overall population in the U.S. has a history of using and managing water to meet certain demands through many different networks of canals, reservoirs, and groundwater extraction. We are essentially a water thirsty state. California is a state where water can be deemed the next gold rush due to our water thirsty needs and demands. As we continue to grow as a population and increase our agriculture yields, management and sustainable techniques need to be in place and improved on to prepare for drought like conditions and to help recharge our depleted aquifers.

With all the precipitation that soaked and drenched the state this winter, residents assume that the drought is over and water demands and usage can return back to “normal.” The visual aspect of surface runoff is apparent throughout the state in the forms of flooding and high discharge rates from rivers, streams, and creeks. Many of the states reservoirs have risen to great heights from previous years and have even had to utilize their spill ways due to rapid incoming flows from strong storm events this winter.

However, while the visual aspect of the precipitation brought to this region may seem to have put a burden on the ongoing drought, in reality our overall groundwater levels are still badly impacted due to years of over drafting this resource when surface water was limited. Excessive groundwater pumping and aquifer depletion have caused the aquifer system to compact, which has led to land subsidence experienced in the Central Valley creating a permanent loss of groundwater storage in the aquifer system and infrastructure damage. Overpumping of California’s aquifers and dwindling compaction of aquifer systems is a major concern for the state and its longevity as a future water storage source. It is a major underground storage compartment for water that needs to be managed in a way to sustain manageable water levels without depleting this valuable resource. It is essential to understand that wet winters like the current one will not reverse this long-term decline. Historically, even the wettest multiyear periods result in only a modest uptick in the otherwise steady loss of Central Valley groundwater. Recharge rates of aquifers is a slow process that can take years to replenish.

To sum it all up, California as a state has always been a water thirsty state. California may be in a better position now, but it remains at risk of the probability of another intense drought with sever water restrictions to follow. The so called end of a drought may not be entirely over. The future of precipitation and snowpack’s remains a mystery of uncertainty. It’s better to look ahead and prepare, than to look back and regret. Efforts should be enforced to help conserve and prepare for drought like conditions that may occur down the road later on in years to come. As a society there is a need to continue improving on better water management and usage criteria if we want to continue to live and thrive in the state of California. If we don’t conserve now, the future of water use will look grim with many harsh water restrictions and crisis scenarios followed on who and where water supplies should be prioritized at that could wreak havoc throughout the state.

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