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The Drought

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The Drought

By Sustainability Interns | April 16, 2015

What is it?

Droughts occur in virtually all climates. Of all weather-related phenomena that have potential to cause severe economic impacts in the US, droughts come in second only to hurricanes. A drought is defined as a period of drier-than-normal conditions that results in water-related problems. At times in which rainfall is below average for extended periods of time, the flow of streams decline. In addition, the water levels of lakes and reservoirs fall while the depth to water in wells increases. Drought is caused not only by lack of precipitation and high temperatures, but by overuse and overpopulation.

What are the effects?

During the time of a drought, declines in surface water flows can be destructive to hydropower production, navigation, recreation, as well as habitat for aquatic species. Groundwater levels are also impacted by drought. However, unlike the effect of drought on surface water, ground water levels may not reflect shortages in rainfall for up to a year after a drought begins. Some effects of a drought are more long-term, land subsidence being one of them. Land subsidence is a gradual settling of the surface due to the subsurface movement. Excessive groundwater pumping can result in the land sinking. What this does is cause permanent loss of groundwater storage in the aquifer system and damages infrastructure. Water allocations for wetland, wildlife, and fish restoration projects can be stopped altogether in the midst of a severe drought. Drier-than-normal conditions also increase the intensity and severity of wildfires.

What are we doing?

In January of 2014 California’s state governor, Jerry Brown, declared a drought state of emergency. As of April 2015, for the first time in California’s history, the governor ordered mandatory water use reductions after a winter of record-low snowfalls. This imposed a 25% reduction over the coming year on the state’s 400 local water supply agencies which serve 90% of California’s residents. According to state officials, the order would impose varying degrees of cutbacks affecting farms, homeowners, businesses, as well as the maintenance of cemeteries and golf courses. As a way to save more water now, the order will also; replace 50 million square feet of lawns throughout the state with drought tolerant landscaping in partnerships with local governments, create temporary consumer rebate programs to replace appliances with more efficient models, prohibit new homes and developments from irrigating with potable water unless water-efficient drip systems are used, in addition to banning watering of ornamental grass on public street medians.

How can you help?

The first step to solving the problem is understanding that there is one. By being well informed of the situation, you can help contribute to the solution. There are many ways to conserve water on a daily basis. Common practices include: taking shorter showers (five minutes or less is best); turning off water while washing hands, brushing teeth, or washing dishes; using a broom instead of a hose to clean driveways and walkways; watering your yard and outdoor plants either early in the day or late to reduce evaporation, and much more. We are all part of the problem, and thus are responsible for being part of the solution. Water is life; We can’t afford to waste it.

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