Friday, January 17, 2014

California Drought Worsens, Wildfire Risk Very High

The year 2013 was California’s driest on record, featuring the least rainfall since the state started keeping track in 1849. And so far, 2014 is off to a bad start.
A full 63 percent of the state is in extreme drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor — up from 23 percent just last week and extending into northwestern Nevada. Precipitation for the water year (which begins October 1) is less than 20 percent of normal levels in the areas of most extreme drought. Up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, snowpack — a major repository for the state’s water supply — is between 10 and 30 percent of normal, with many locations now in the bottom 5th percentile. Two of the state’s lakes are only 36 percent full; the San Luis Reservoir in Central Valley is down to 30 percent.
“It’s really serious,” Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday. “In many ways it’s a mega-drought; it’s been going on for a number of years.” Any day now, he’s expected to announce that California is officially in the midst of a drought.
Citing the dry conditions and gusty winds, a meteorologist warned Tuesday that the fire danger in many parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties is “about as high as it can be,” a prediction borne out Thursday when a massive wildfire ignited 40 miles east of downtown L.A. Three people were arrested in connection with the blaze, which scorched over 1,700 acres and destroyed at least two homes.
The drought could extremely limit irrigation water supply for California farms.  Since so many acres in California have gone to almond groves, and almonds need large amounts of water, the crop may put a tremendous strain on surface water and ground water supplies.  There is something about agriculture that highlights the tragedy of the commons (which is logical considering that grazing is the definitive example of it) and the conflict between rational self-interest and damage to society at large.  Almond cultivation in California may be a good example of that.

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