California drought pits farmers vs. cities. But neither is the biggest water victim.
On Oct. 29, California became the first U.S. state to ban the construction of new oil and gas operations within its borders within a decade. Now it is facing a potential drought of its own, with more than a month of continuous rain having yet to return to the Sierra Nevada. And while the rains may be welcome to farmers in the Central Valley, which could turn an already-bustling year into a record-breaking one, they are likely to be welcomed by a lot of the state’s cities, too, if the drought is severe.
The reason for the drought, it’s worth asking, is the ongoing, catastrophic drought that has gripped the West for nearly two decades. How bad have things gotten? Let’s first look at what’s going on, then examine what’s being done to deal with the effects, and finally ask exactly how bad California’s problem is.
What’s happening in California
In late summer of 2014, the state’s top-soil moisture sensor, the California Water Resources Board’s Central Valley Soil moisture Observation and Assessment Network, revealed a drought-induced drop in the amount of rain that fell in California’s three largest metropolitan areas by almost 20 percent. The news was the state’s first-ever drought warning, and although the warning was issued just days after California had officially declared the state at an emergency state of drought, it didn’t make the news that much. But once the state started receiving the first signs of a drought, the effects began to be noticed.
Rainfall levels in the San Joaquin Valley and surrounding foothills dropped by more than 40 percent in early 2015 as compared to the previous year, with the highest-level of the year only just below normal. The first-ever drought-related watering restrictions for cities and farmers were put in place: farmers were ordered to reduce water use by up to 30 percent, while city dwellers were told to cut their water consumption by up to 20 percent. And while the drought has