Are you more of a visual learner? Here's a dramatic graphic showing just how short on water the state of California is compared to just last week, and last year. That dark maroon part indicates "exceptional drought" or drought-level 4 (D4). The red is "extreme drought," and orange indicates "severe drought." These all sound like basically the same thing, but according to this week's Drought Monitor report from the USDA, the D4 designation is based on a range of factors getting much worse, especially in Northern California, as we barely pass the midpoint of summer.

Nebraska-based climatologist Mark Svoboda at the National Drought Mitigation Center calls our three-year drought "a once in a generation type of event," noting to Mashable that compared to the California drought of late 1970s, there are now about twice as many people living in the state, therefore using twice as much water, if not more.

75 percent of California's water usage nonetheless goes to agriculture — i.e. growing most of the country's carrots, avocados, strawberries, almonds, grapes, etc. And according to a UC Davis study released two weeks ago, about five percent of the state's irrigated crop land, or 428,000 acres, will be taken out of production by year's end, and statewide agriculture revenue losses are expected to be $1.5 billion. So you can expect the price of those carrots and avocados to rise.

The "exceptional drought" indicator is based on the following facts:

  • California is short more than one year’s worth of reservoir water, or 11.6 million acre-feet, for this time of year.
  • For California’s 154 intrastate reservoirs, storage at the end of June stood at 60% of the historical average
  • California’s topsoil moisture and subsoil moisture reserves are nearly depleted and the state’s rangeland and pastures were rated 70% very poor to poor on July 27.
  • New wildfires (the El Portal Fire near Yosemite and the Sand Fire further south) have collectively charred almost 8,000 thousand acres of vegetation in northern and central California. The El Portal Fire is 34 percent contained, and the Sand Fire is now 95 percent contained.

So if you've been whining about not being able to hose off your driveway, just stop.


[Drought Monitor]