You’ve probably heard about the California drought by now. If you live in California, it’s hard to hear about anything else. Unfortunately, the drought may be even worse than we realize, because the way we often measure water supply doesn’t consider future water availability. By relying on measurements of current reservoir levels, agencies in charge of water distribution are missing an important part of the water supply picture, leaving their customers vulnerable to longer and more severe droughts.
High and Dry: Reservoir Levels Tell Only Half the Story, Leaving California Dry as Drought Continues
March 31st, 2015
February 13th, 2015
Last year, California’s drought task force toured the parched state, visiting sites impacted by the record dry conditions. At Lake Mendocino, a reservoir located in the northern part of the state, they saw bathtub rings and beached docks, evidence of drastically reduced water levels. Therefore, it should be surprising that billions of gallons of water were released from the reservoir during the drought to comply with outdated flood control rules. Read More
October 21st, 2014
Some say the only things you can count on are death and taxes, but in California there’s something else: drought. No one knows how long the current drought will last or when the next drought will be, but we can be sure that droughts will continue to cycle through in California. Unfortunately, many of our water management systems haven’t been built with this basic fact in mind and aren’t being operated to deal with longer or more severe droughts in the future. Read More
September 22nd, 2014
I was in Colorado a short time ago to release “Rocky Mountain Forests at Risk,” our latest report on the regional impacts of climate change. The report focuses on how climate change has amplified the effects of tree-killing insects, wildfires, and stress from heat and drought — what we called a “triple assault” — on forests. But my work on the report didn’t prepare me for the scene that confronted me on the ground. Read More
September 16th, 2014
UCS California Climate Scientist Dr. Juliet Christian-Smith provides this guest blog that celebrates today’s signing of historic California legislation to require regulation of groundwater, and offers some thoughts about the need for climate-resilient water management going forward.
Although California is known as a leader when it comes to climate change, its approach to groundwater has been more reminiscent of the Wild West. Groundwater provides around 60 percent of the state’s water supply in dry years, but it has remained largely unregulated since the Gold Rush era. Today, California took a major leap forward into the 21st century as Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills into law aimed at protecting groundwater for current and future generations. Read More
April 14th, 2014
Don Cheadle talks with a displaced meat-packing plant worker, Nelly Montez, about the punishing multi-year drought in Texas that drastically reduced the cattle herd in the first episode of Years of Living Dangerously, which aired April 13 and can be viewed online. A USDA spreadsheet on cattle losses, or a map of the most severe period during the recent drought in Texas, do not do justice in conveying the stories of people demonstrating courage in the face of mighty external forces. This episode has several surprising stories that I will not soon forget.
April 8th, 2014
The late-March storms in California gave the Sierra snowpack a belated boost, but the state is still bracing for dry times ahead. This was confirmed by the Department of Water Resource’s April 1 snow survey, one of the closest watched of the year because it marks the expected end of the wet season. Read More
Early Wildfire Season in New Mexico Starts as U.S. Considers New Funding Sources to Fight Extreme Wildfires
February 25th, 2014
I experienced very dry conditions in the mountains of northern New Mexico a few weeks back. I spoke with someone who travels to Taos nearly every winter and this was the least snow he could remember. The fire risk sign said “low” in the surrounding forests, but if more snow did not come soon I suspected those signs would start nudging to the yellow and red colors that warn of fire risk. Unfortunately, fires have already erupted in New Mexico this February. Some officials say that if 2014 continues to be the sixth year in a row with drier-than-average conditions on New Mexico’s Rio Grande, this would be the longest dry stretch since before the Rio Grande river gauges existed. Read More
January 22nd, 2014
It’s now well known that California is facing an unprecedented drought emergency. Governor Brown declared a state of emergency to address the drought last week, and in his annual State of the State message today indicated that the situation we face may be a harbinger of things to come due to climate change. Our California climate scientist Dr. Juliet Christian-Smith shares her thoughts below on what this really means and the kinds of measures the state needs to be exploring to truly address this problem: Read More
October 2nd, 2013
While a lot of folks are rightly focused on the House-Senate budget collision in D.C. right now, I’ve been thinking (as is my wont) about collisions of a different sort: between power plants and the rivers and lakes they depend on. Read More