New federal data show that California may be sliding back into drought, just as the Legislature is starting to pursue ways to make sure residents are prepared for water shortages.
Due to weeks of dry weather about 10 percent of California and more than half of Nevada are in drought mode, the federal government reported Thursday.
"Really the last 60 days or so, after a decent start to the wet season, things have pretty much – I won't say shut off – but there's been a considerably lower than normal amount, probably about just a quarter of normal,” said Rich Tinker, a meteorologist with NOAA and author of this week's Drought Monitor report.
Parts of the southern Sierra Nevada and a large section of the San Joaquin Valley are now determined to be in moderate drought. The report shows on a 60-day time scale precipitation totals “are among the driest five percent of historical occurrences.”
Nearly half of California – including portions of the Sacramento Valley, Bay Area, and Central Coast – are also abnormally dry.
Tinker says the state is about where it was last year at this time, but that was during one of the wettest February months on record.This year however, February is lining up to be one of the driest with no rain in sight. The 10-day forecast for most of the state details very little rain.
"You can get precipitation in March of course,” said Tinker. “If you don't get a decent slug of moisture then though, you're going to be entering the dry season with a moderate drought already existing in that region and it can't possibly get better until the next wet season."
In early December less than 0.01 percent of the state’s was under the classification of moderate drought. But in 2015, 98 percent of California was in moderate drought and around 40 percent was undergoing exceptional drought.
But 10 percent of the state being in moderate drought doesn’t necessarily mean the state is returning to the conditions of the 2012-2017. Tinkers’ group classifies drought in five categories with moderate as the mildest.
How ready are you?
There's a new web tool that shows Californians whether future droughts could impact their water supply. The advocacy group the Community Water Center created the tool because climate science shows that droughts are only going to get more severe.
“It really is only a matter of when, not if,” said Jonathon Nelson, the group’s policy director.
He says a future drought could affect more than 4,500 domestic wells in the Central Valley alone, and that could cost the state as much as $115 million.
The web-based application can show a Californian where their water comes, whether a future drought could impact their drinking water supply, what groundwater quality is like and how their water compares to local and regional groundwater sustainability plans.
More than 1.6 million Californians rely on domestic wells for their water and live in areas droughts are prone to occur. That’s why the group says preparing for future droughts is serving people’s basic human rights.
“We don’t want a repeat of the last drought, which left vulnerable communities in the San Joaquin Valley devastated without access to clean drinking water,” said Susana De Anda, Executive Director of the group.
“We must make sure California is ready to protect access to drinking water when the next drought hits.”
Preparing for water issues
A bill – Senate Bill 971 – was introduced in tandem with the web tool. The goal is to make sure communities have safe, clean, and affordable drinking water when droughts hit.
More than 12,000 people ran out of water in California during the most recent drought. The bill would help the state identify small water suppliers and rural communities that are at risk of a water shortage. It would also task communities and water suppliers of fewer than 3,000 connections to come up with plans in case of drought.
“Our changing climate – or as Governor Brown called it, our ‘new normal’ – requires that we find solutions for a more sustainable water future,” Senate Majority Leader and the bill’s author Bob Hertzberg said in a statement. “But we can’t pursue those solutions on the backs of our most vulnerable communities.”
To avoid these communities from running out of water during a drought Hertzberg says the bill establishes critical tools to help prevent catastrophic impacts on drinking water.
If the bill becomes law it would establish a nationwide interagency drought and water shortage task force that would work with counties. It would also have counties create similar task forces to help small communities deal with water issues especially in times of drought.
“There’s this gap of drinking water accessibility that needs to be closed,” said De Anda. “That’s why this bill is so critical. It will require California to bridge the drinking water gap by having plans in place for vulnerable communities throughout the state, including the Central Valley.”
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