Five years ago I posted a blog (Running Dry) charting the water levels in California’s reservoirs for the previous five years, pointing out that if the trend continued California would begin literally running out of water in a few years. Fortunately the following winters brought increased rainfall and the immediate danger was averted. But since then, with four consecutive winters of low rainfall, the situation has become even more dire—and much more so than most realize. Jerry Brown’s order of a 25% cut in consumption, and his $6 billion for better collection and distribution, which won’t come on line for another five years, may be respectively too little and too late.
Looking at the graph above, it is clear that if the winter rains over the next couple of years follow the same pattern—and current models of climate change suggest that this is indeed the long-term expectation—and people, farming, and industry don’t drastically curb water usage, then the reservoirs will begin to run dry.
What will happen then? California will no longer be such an attractive place to live in. The net influx of people attracted by the many opportunities California has to offer, will give way to a net outflow. People and corporations will begin migrating elsewhere—just as other civilizations have when faced with prolonged drought. And the greatly inflated property prices around San Francisco and Los Angeles will begin to fall, perhaps collapse. What will happen when people have to move elsewhere, but cannot sell their homes? There’s another economic disaster waiting in the wings. And it may well be the first major such disaster directed related to climate change.
Moreover, since over 40% of North America’s fruit and veg is grown in California’s central valley, less water will mean reduced crops and higher prices throughout the USA. Moreover any shortage in the US will be made up by imports, raising prices in the developing world.
Many central-valley farmers have turned to pumping out the aquifers to irrigate their crops. But it doesn’t take any great brains to see that this is a short-term solution and will lead to even greater tragedy when the aquifers run dry.