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Drought resilience depends on location but also extraordinary engineering — determining which California places are running out of water this year and which remain in good shape. In Los Angeles, people have been hearing about the dangers of drought for decades. But in this land of infinity pools and backyard putting greens — better suited for rattlesnakes and scrub — water never seems to run out. Each resident has been told to use no more than 55 gallons per day — enough to fill a bathtub and flush a toilet six times. When it comes to the impact of drought, location is key. Others farther south have fewer natural supplies of their own, and in parts of the Central Valley, the drought never really left.
Rivers are overallocated through sloppy water ing.
Groundwater has dwindled as farmers overdraw aquifers. Many communities lack safe drinking water.
Water shortages: why some californians are running out in and others aren’t
Native Americans want almost-extinct salmon runs revived. There is talk, too, of new water projects, including a massive new tunnel costing billions of dollars. Scientists say climate change will bring more unpredictable weather, warmer winters and less snowpack in the mountains. These challenges and some ideas for remedies are outlined in a plan, called the California Water Resilience Portfolio, released by Gov. Gavin Newsom in early to a mix of praise and disappointment. It originates as rain and snow. Some falls in Oregon and drains into the Klamath River, and some falls in the vast drainage of the Colorado River.
But most of it lands in California — about million acre-feet on average per year.
Is southern california sucking northern water supply dry during drought?
An acre-foot isgallons, what an average household consumes in between six months and two year s. To understand what that volume means, imagine a skyscraper 38, miles tall.
Yes, miles tall, not feet. Now, fill it with water. So, where does all this water go? More than half evaporates, leaving about 75 million acre-feet either frozen in mountains or filling rivers, lakes and reservoirs. Some sinks into the ground.
Source: Daniel J. Hoover, et al. Map of California showing the average annual rainfall from — Used with permission. Because precipitation falls unevenly in California — almost ten feet per year drenching parts of the Coast Range and just several inches falling in deserts — water agencies have found ways to spread the resource. A complex system of dams, reservoirs, pumping stations and about 2, miles of canals supplies water to Californians that originated in the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada and the Cascades. This Trinity River project is one of many ambitious engineering projects that have brought water to Los Angeles swimming pools, San Diego lawns, Kern County crops and the taps of about 30 million people.
It provides water for about 3 million acres of farmland. In all, it supplies 27 million people andacres of farmland. This share increases during drought years. On average, each Californian used 85 gallons of water at their homes every day in In Idaho, each person on average uses gallons a day, the national high. Residents of Maine use the least, about 55 gallons. Coastal city dwellers, especially in the cooler, rainier north part of the state, use the least water, while residents of inland suburban areas with spacious lawns, gardens and pools use much more.
In one water district in north San Diego County, each resident uses more than gallons per day during the hottest summer months. Even multiplied by 40 million people, the amount of water used by homes amounts to relatively little. Farmland uses three to four times more than people use for cooking, drinking, washing, gardening and landscaping. Residential water use runs about 8 million acre-feet per year.
Another 40 million acre-feet or so flows through river systems, supporting wildlife. The biggest money makers are dairy, grapes and almonds. Almond groves cover more than 2, square milesmostly in the Central Valley. Because the trees occupy so much land — more than any other crop — environmentalists argue that they guzzle too much.
They use an estimated 3 to 4 million acre-feet per year. But other major crops require plenty of water, too. Alfalfa often uses more than 5 million acre-feet per yearalthough acreage has been declining.
Open pasture for grazing takes up another 3 million acre feet or so. Rice paddies are annually flooded with almost 3 million acre-feet per year though much eventually returns to the environment.
In addition to economic prosperity, water diversions have brought environmental consequences. The San Joaquin River nearly dried up. And the Colorado River, in most years, is empty before it reaches its estuary at the Sea of Cortez. Dams blocked migration routes of salmon and steelheadand then diversions, levee construction and development created poor conditions for the surviving fish.
Coho salmon, steelhead and green sturgeon are listed under the Endangered Species Act, and many salmon runs are expected to vanish this century. In addition, the tiny Delta smelt is almost extinct. The totuava, an ocean fish that can reach pounds, once spawned in great s in the Colorado River Delta but is now scarce.
To protect species, pumping from the Delta is reduced. This creates strife between environmentalists and growers.
Some biologists say more water needs to be left for river fish as well as San Francisco Bay creatures such as crab, herring and halibut. In an average year, pumps withdraw about 5 million acre-feet from the estuary. A pair of canals transport it to semi-arid regions, including San Joaquin Valley farmland and Southern California cities. The levees are old and at risk of breaking, especially as sea level rises.
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A major levee breach could allow seawater to flood pumping stations, spelling disaster for farmers and millions of people. Adding to the pressures is a recent pact to use less water from the Colorado River, which is divided among seven states.
These battles are intensifying as demand increases and supplies shrink. This could force Southern California to look for more water from other sources, like the Delta. Former Gov. Jerry Brown promoted a two-tunnel project for eight years without success. Newsom has downsized the plan to one tunnel and hopes to begin construction within three years. Currently, major Delta pumps pull water from the heart of the estuary.
Water is life. it’s also a battle. so what does the future hold for california?
This causes obstacles for migrating fish. In addition, the pumps are vulnerable to saltwater during low river flow and high ocean tides. A tunnel would shift water diversion miles upstream, which might alleviate these problems. Intakes would be several feet above present-day sea level, and the rivers would flow through the Delta and out to sea, which helps migrating fish. But the tunnel plan is extremely controversial. Many opponents worry it could harm the ecosystem by diverting too much water before it reaches the estuary.
Excessive diversions could also allow saltwater to threaten farms and communities in the Delta area that rely on freshwater. Moreover, moving the diversion point upstream to avoid rising seas simply kicks that can down the road a few decades.
Water suppliers, like the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supports the project, would likely cover the cost, although details remain unsettled. Many farmers rely on groundwater, especially in dry years. Some Southern California cities also get as much as half of their supply from wells. But no California agency has been tracking exactly how much is used or who uses it, even though nearly every other state regulates this resource.
The free-for-all has led to farmers in many areas pumping groundwater faster than the natural recharge.
Water tables have rapidly dropped and, in some communities, homes have run out of water. During the to drought, about 3, domestic wells went dry. Also, when coastal aquifers are heavily tapped, saltwater creeps inland. In central and Southern California, water managers have to inject freshwater into aquifers to stop saltwater intrusion. San Joaquin Valley farmers have pumped so much water that land in some areas have subsided by 20 feet or more.
This damage cannot be undone, and the water storage capacity is lost forever. Brown passed a triage of bills incollectively known as the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. But this stabilization will not happen anytime soon, since the law sets a sustainability deadline of Many farmers are uneasy because it will reduce water supply and force land out of production. Some experts say farmers will have to fallow betweenand a million acres.