Is California in a wetter place?

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It’s not news that California has been in a drought for the past several years.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. In the last 30 days San Francsico has gotten 8.65 inches of precipitation – 4 inches over the “average” month total for January. January 2015 was shocking with literally no precipitation at all. The previous two years before that wasn’t much better.

San Diego? It’s gotten 3 inches this past month, a full inch more than average.

The levels of Lake Shasta are increasing. On January 30, 2016, Lake Shasta’s level was 974.62 feet. Today, it’s 1031.38 feet, with a rise of 57 feet over one year.

So, is the drought over?

Things have improved, but it’s too early to claim that. Why?

California is big. nearly 164 thousand square miles, to be exact. Not only is it huge, it’s population in residents alone was 38.8 million as of 2014. (To put in perspective, that’s 236 people per square mile.)

Consider the fact that 8 million acres are farmed and irrigated. In square miles, that’s about 12,500 – the equivalent of the entire state of Maryland.

Back to issue of California being big – while some areas have been drenched thoroughly and may benefit more than just short term from the precipitation, other areas haven’t seen as much rain or snow. “As of last Thursday, 58 percent of California was classified as being in “severe drought,” down from 88 percent a year ago” – The Mercury News

Ground Water

Another huge problem is that the ground water of California is depleted to such an extent that regardless of the rain, it can not seep down quickly enough into the aquifers. Even more disturbing is when aquifers become emptied, they may not replenish again. Ground water is often taken for granted. Aquifers are typically renewable… but not at the rate California is using water.

Residential versus Agricultural Use

Recently I spoke with a friend who lives in Central California. Their water department sent out notices on how much water they were expected to reduce, and so they did. The following year, they received another notice with requests to cut back further, so they did. And each year, their water bills increased. So residents are reducing water use and still paying more.

Agriculture is using approximately 80% (or more) of the available water. Part of this is because California agriculture relies on perennial crops like grapes. This means instead of just watering for a 3 or 4 month section of time, these plants are using ground water year-round. Could some of these agricultural industries move out of state, to a place that wasn’t in such a drought? Possibly. But it’s not a long-term fix. Either way, the ground water is being debited faster than it’s credited.

Time will tell if the California drought will cease – but it certainly won’t be overnight.

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