California is the Canary

We examined the western U.S. drought in an essay published July 1, 2014: Jeopardy Question: This Body of Water Determines the Fate of the Modern Day Anasazi. In it we focused on the situation of Lake Mead, the reservoir is a vital source of drinking and irrigation water for Las Vegas and eastern California. The reservoir is also important for power generation since it forms the forebay of the Hoover Dam generating station.

Lake Mead Today

We have been monitoring the situation over the last year as seen in the addenda to the above mentioned article. Prior to last year’s record low of 1080.60 feet above sea level set in July of 2014 the previous record was 1081.94 feet set in Nov. 2010 (see complete data set). May 4 of this year saw a new record low of 1078.83 feet established (Bureau of Reclamation).

The significance of a record low in May is seen from the data for the last 10 years. Only one year (2011) had increases in consecutive months after May and one year (2008) had late year levels above the May level. The second point is that we have had a record low snowpack this year as we discussed in Eat your Broccoli Now. The meltwater from the snowpack is an important source of water for replenishing reservoirs and it is at very low levels.

In short, expect the water level of Lake Mead to continue to drop throughout the summer and possibly into year end if historical patterns hold.

The Drought Situation in California Updated

We first documented the drought in Another Dry Essay. Figure 1 of this essay shows the progression of the California drought from Jan. to May, 2014. In The U.S. South-West Drought Revisited, Figure 1 shows the drought map for Dec. 2014. The growth of the area classified as D4 – Exceptional Drought – throughout the year was notable. In Figure 1 below we show the drought map for April 28, 2015. Two things are notable about this image.

The first is that already this year, the D4 area is double that of May 2014. The second is that this year, the extreme drought conditions extend farther along the Nevada border both north and south, than in December 2014. The northern coastal regions are not classified D4 – yet – but given the progression of the D4 classified area over the year in 2014, we would project that the D4 coastal limits will be reached earlier than last year and may extend farther to the north.

Figure 1. U.S. Drought Map for California, April 28, 2015

Source: United States Drought Monitor

The Problem of California Aquifers

We touched on how reduced irrigation water allocations from reservoirs has forced farmers to drill wells and tap acquifers (read: A Picture of the California Drought). This has caused groudwater levels to drop resulting in dry household wells, necessitating in turn, deeper wells. Today we discovered that several aquifers have effectively been “poisoned” by the injection of toxic waste water from the oil and gas industry, as well as from other sources. (read: Fracking Wastewater Injected into Clean Aquifers in Parched California).

One needs to begin to consider the possibility of a “mega-drought” extending 30 years or more and which we looked at in Another Dry Essay. Should the current drought simply be the start of a mega-drought, something that has historically occurred many times, expect a massive migration of families and businesses from California and Nevada to other parts of the country. For more information also read 5 facts you need to know about Lake Mead’s water crisis.

Summary

California is the canary in the coal mine for water resources. How California fares will have economic impacts well beyond its borders as the leading edge of an emerging global water  crisis. This is not a crisis due to ‘climate change’ but a crisis of how mankind has plundered, poisoned, and abused the global environment and its resources.

Addendum: 20150506

Having just finished our essay yesterday, we find this article this mourning: California Adopts “Unprecedented” Restrictions On Water Use As Drought Worsens. We have not reported on recent water restrictions but this article introduces the topic along with the effect of the drought on National Forests where tree die-off is massive and continuing. This in turn raises the likelihood of large forest fires this year.

Addendum: 20150514

We add this article from Zero Hedge, Water Wars Officially Begin In California, because it is a canary issue that we have not considered until now. As water becomes more scarce, its value increases. Whether driven by necessity (survival needs) or larceny, water theft will only increase in California.

Addendum: 20150514

In an article published in Zero Hedge today, an action by California’s farmers to voluntarily reduce water use for irrigation is discussed. Read: In Unprecedented Move, California Farmers With Guaranteed Rights Cut Water Use By 25%. The article sheds some light on the complexity of the issue of water rights. However, the serious implication is the reduction of California farm produce later this year causing a rise in food prices.

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