natural drought vs. water system mismanagement

Recently, a new friend of mine posted some really thought provoking articles about the drought in California (and really in the whole southwest).

Basically, NOAA has made a bold statement: the drought is natural.

My friend found a key point in a related article based on that declaration,

“NOAA has weighed in with a report that pins the blame on natural variability. But the report has come under criticism from some scientists, and it may have been finalized before some recent, relevant papers”

Despite the fact that it is immensely difficult to separate out all of the contributing factors involved in drought and water mismanagement, it is important to evaluate the causes of drought and our involvement with it.

Based on my experience working within a state water council in Sacramento as an assistant to the Lead Scientist of the Delta Stewardship Council, I found that those “recent and relevant” papers are not being processed in a timely manner. In fact, there isn’t even a job position for someone to organize the papers. I was doing it as an unpaid intern.

That being said, I do think that a natural cycle is a huge contributing factor to the current drought. I also think that mismanagement of our water systems is also a significant and relevant contributing factor to our current drought situation.

After posting some of these thoughts on his thread, I was (very sweetly) asked my friend’s friend,”how the system is being mismanaged?”

I know of 4 major ways that the water system is being mismanaged in California:

1. Lack of education
2. Faulty estimations
3. Outdated farming 
4. Oil Production

Lack of Education
I grew up in LA, so I can say from experience that there was no education provided to me about the reality of LA’s water system. We were not taught about where our water came from, the infrastructure built to bring it to us, or even about the farmers of California that provide our food and depend on that infrastructure. None of this was taught despite the fact that water is actually a defining feature of LA’s foundation. A lack of proper regional education leads to a generation of people that does not understand their contribution to and role within the water system. This in turn leads to a lack of water conservation techniques. I think two things would improve this problem: an update to local environmental education ciriculum (in both schools and community spaces) and implement environmental history as a part of history classes.

Faulty Estimations
Faulty engineering estimations can be found in water allocation to cities and states throughout the southwest. Water allocation is a declaration of who gets what water and how much in a given time period. Faulty estimations are are the root of allocations issues. When they started diverting water from the Colorado River they actually allotted more water to each party than even existed within the river at peak wet years. When you give cities or companies access to more water than is actually available, there is an inherent problem. That problem has been actualized in the Colorado River. The river stops flowing at the Mexico border. This means that the Colorado does not reach it’s delta (it’s connection to the ocean). That completely changes the delta ecosystem that existed in Mexico for centuries. Creating a desert out of a wetland will have serious effects on the climate of the region and on the ecosystem of the ocean in that area. This is another example of micro regions contributing to overall macro ecosystem degradation. 

Outdated Farming
Many farmers feel entitled to farming the way they see fit, instead of adopting newer practices that conserve water and allow the soil to stay healthier for longer. This resistance to new techniques creates an imbalance in water usage (water rights are a really complicated, tricky business but it basically follows old wild west rules, “first come, first serve”). Improper farming leads to huge water wasting and is supplying a high demand in cities that also do not have very much water. The whole situation is being magnified.

Oil Production
California is one of the largest producers of oil. The methods that it uses to get that oil have not been properly regulated for many years. This causes intense groundwater pollution. When the groundwater is polluted, other sources of water must be used to replace the lack of groundwater. This furthers the loop of rivers being allocated beyond their means. Current oil production methods such as fracking are polluting some of the deepest aquifers we can reach at an alarming rate. 


Basically, we need to see water as it naturally exists, as a renewable resource. If we properly use and value it, we can keep existing. 


cali drought

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