News

Yes, we're in a drought — but it's no longer a temporary emergency

State's drought manager warns: Adapt to drier new normal or brace for environmental disaster

A heron wades in the shallow waters of the Lexington Reservoir in Los Gatos on July 7, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

California's declining water supply, the current drought and global warming are leading to serious environmental consequences, the state's drought manager said on Oct. 3 during a Zoom presentation for the Los Altos-Mountain View branch of the American Association of University Women.

Jeanine Jones, drought manager for the California Department of Water Resources painted a sobering picture of the future that includes a possibly unrecoverable situation for the state's fish and a greater depletion of water unless there are significant changes in how the state manages its water supply.

The current drought conditions would require a significant increase in rainfall this coming winter if there is a chance of recovery. That's unlikely.

"We would need to have 140% of average precipitation in 2022 to bring usable runoff up to normal level," Jones said.

The two-year drought has parched rivers and reservoirs, but it has been a long time in the making, she said. Insufficient regulation of groundwater and the lack of creating adequate water storage to meet the state's growing needs have contributed to the current predicament.

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The state's water problems date to the California Gold Rush, when projects first began moving water from abundant sources in wetter areas to drier places where it was needed, Jones said. Regulation historically lagged behind development.

Although groundwater aquifers have supplied 60% of California's water needs, statewide regulations were not in place until 2014. Overuse of the aquifers causes compaction, which prevents them from being able to refill during rainstorms, Jones said.

The ecological impact of moving water resources also was largely ignored until the 21st century, she said. Warmer temperatures have amplified the effects of drought, making it much harder for wildlife to survive when water sources they rely on are diminished or dry up.

Less snowmelt runoff is leading to ecological disaster, Jones warned. It's probably too late to rescue migratory fish such as salmon, which depend on cold water from melting snow to migrate upriver, she said. The problem is compounded by the state's catastrophic wildfires, which also reduce runoff by damaging existing waterways and infrastructure.

Californians do have recourse, she said. But it means taking action against anticipated water shortages as soon as possible. Residents will need to be resilient and adapt to a world where drought is a normal condition, not a temporary “drought emergency,” she said.

Santa Clara Valley Water District offers a variety of programs and suggestions, including landscaping rebates to replace water-loving lawns, rain barrels and other conservation methods. Information can be found at valleywater.org/water-conservation-programs.

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Yes, we're in a drought — but it's no longer a temporary emergency

State's drought manager warns: Adapt to drier new normal or brace for environmental disaster

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sun, Oct 10, 2021, 8:39 am

California's declining water supply, the current drought and global warming are leading to serious environmental consequences, the state's drought manager said on Oct. 3 during a Zoom presentation for the Los Altos-Mountain View branch of the American Association of University Women.

Jeanine Jones, drought manager for the California Department of Water Resources painted a sobering picture of the future that includes a possibly unrecoverable situation for the state's fish and a greater depletion of water unless there are significant changes in how the state manages its water supply.

The current drought conditions would require a significant increase in rainfall this coming winter if there is a chance of recovery. That's unlikely.

"We would need to have 140% of average precipitation in 2022 to bring usable runoff up to normal level," Jones said.

The two-year drought has parched rivers and reservoirs, but it has been a long time in the making, she said. Insufficient regulation of groundwater and the lack of creating adequate water storage to meet the state's growing needs have contributed to the current predicament.

The state's water problems date to the California Gold Rush, when projects first began moving water from abundant sources in wetter areas to drier places where it was needed, Jones said. Regulation historically lagged behind development.

Although groundwater aquifers have supplied 60% of California's water needs, statewide regulations were not in place until 2014. Overuse of the aquifers causes compaction, which prevents them from being able to refill during rainstorms, Jones said.

The ecological impact of moving water resources also was largely ignored until the 21st century, she said. Warmer temperatures have amplified the effects of drought, making it much harder for wildlife to survive when water sources they rely on are diminished or dry up.

Less snowmelt runoff is leading to ecological disaster, Jones warned. It's probably too late to rescue migratory fish such as salmon, which depend on cold water from melting snow to migrate upriver, she said. The problem is compounded by the state's catastrophic wildfires, which also reduce runoff by damaging existing waterways and infrastructure.

Californians do have recourse, she said. But it means taking action against anticipated water shortages as soon as possible. Residents will need to be resilient and adapt to a world where drought is a normal condition, not a temporary “drought emergency,” she said.

Santa Clara Valley Water District offers a variety of programs and suggestions, including landscaping rebates to replace water-loving lawns, rain barrels and other conservation methods. Information can be found at valleywater.org/water-conservation-programs.

Comments

Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 10, 2021 at 10:34 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Oct 10, 2021 at 10:34 am

How will increasing the area's density help us cope with droughts and increased fire risks? Do none of these new residents and commuters use water?

Office rents are at record highs. Tech continues to displace existing communities, resident-serving businesses and residents.

How much more are we expected to conserve support this growth?


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2021 at 9:13 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 11, 2021 at 9:13 am

In the past 20 months we have all been spending more time at home. We have been handwashing more, we have been flushing more and various offices, schools, restaurants, and even gyms, etc. must have been using less water as a result. None of that is taken into account when we are told to use less water. Anyone who has lived in the area for the past decade or so have already instaled low flow everything and become adept at reducing water for things around the home. Telling those of us to do more particularly when we are spending more time at home is not going to go down well. Short of doing laundry at laundromats and showering at gyms, we are going to find it hard to conserve even more.

California is going to have to do more to give consumers the basic water service, per person, and that means improving collections, improving desalination, and improving sensible methods of charges. I don't want to see a surcharge for using less water!


Banes
Registered user
Greater Miranda
on Oct 11, 2021 at 11:20 am
Banes , Greater Miranda
Registered user
on Oct 11, 2021 at 11:20 am

And yet Newscum is encouraging everyone build 3 more units on their neighborhood lots, creating more water demands.

The mega billion dollar companies need to be taxed to create the water resources for the demand for housing they are creating.


rhody
Registered user
Barron Park
on Oct 11, 2021 at 4:23 pm
rhody, Barron Park
Registered user
on Oct 11, 2021 at 4:23 pm

I strongly agree with BYSTANDER's comments above. And I would love to learn what MORE I can possibly do when I already DON'T water outside my house front or back, and conserve water indoors as much as possible for 1 person occupancy. In fact, I would really appreciate seeing

SUGGESTIONS FOR NEW WAYS TO CONSERVE WATER

added as a REGULAR ONGOING FEATURE

in this "Palo Alto Online" column/feature/Town Square/newspaper.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 11, 2021 at 4:35 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Oct 11, 2021 at 4:35 pm

I too agree with Bystander that it's absurd to charge us more for conserving more water -- as PA has done for years -- just as it "overcharges" us aka steals $20,000,000 from us each and every year for utilities and then has the nerve to charge us AGAIN to appeal the judgment that PA Utiities owes us money!

For most of us, there's no way to conserve MORE water other than continuing to resist the densification of the area and to ban more office construction.

Areas have thrived that are not so dependent on commuters who have outnumbered us 4:1 have economies yet we have to pay the price of service cutbacks for the short-sighted greed of our "leaders" and "planners" who evict long-term downtown residents like those of the President Hotel and then waste OUR money coming up with studies that day -- DUH -- we need more downtown residents like those they just evicted for an empty high-end hotel.

Insanity.


tmp
Registered user
Downtown North
on Oct 12, 2021 at 4:53 pm
tmp, Downtown North
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2021 at 4:53 pm

We are not in a drought!!! The water we get now is the normal amount and the annual rainfall will get lower according to projections.

All of those posters above commenting on overpopulation and the need to plan long term for a sustainable population to survive in this area are correct. Unfortunately over government is in the pocket of developers who only see in the short term and want to make as much money as possible while continuing to destroy the environment.

I guess the best we can do is try to find reasonable long term thinkers to vote for but there are usually none to be found. Why don't educated environmentally savvy people ever run for office? Must be because the only people getting money to run are fronted by giant corporations and developers who don't care if they destroy the environment.


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 12, 2021 at 10:14 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2021 at 10:14 pm

Drove through middle of Sunnyvale recently where strict garden watering limits in place; looks terrible and a fire hazard.
Brown weeds lower property values, are unsightly and a fire risk.
Some middle ground of reasonable watering must be maintained.


Leslie York
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 13, 2021 at 12:33 am
Leslie York, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 13, 2021 at 12:33 am

You can't conserve your way out of a drought. Water has to come from somewhere.

CA has been having droughts every few years since the mid '70s, almost half a century. Remember placing a brick in your toilet tank to save water? If city leaders were thinking ahead they would be looking into building a municipal desalination plant in the baylands. I have penciled out the figures based on what other CA cities (Carlsbad) pay to operate a municipal desal plant to augment their water supply. If the cost were spread out over all PA water customers it would be feasible. Desal plants use a tremendous amount of electricity and there is the matter of what to do with the extracted salt, but once you use up all the potable water and rainfall isn't coming, what are you going to do? No use waiting for the State to act because they probably never will. Israel has the same problem as CA of intermittent rainfall and they have embraced desalination in a big way. Maybe we should be looking at how they do it in Israel.

Areas with big, palatial estates with expansive lawns and landscaping consume the most water per capita so there's a lot of inequity there, but that's another discussion. My mother was smart. In the mid '70s she made yours truly dig up the front lawn. She replaced it with pea gravel which she never had to water, and she managed to make it look lovely with kind of a Japanese motif.

The City of Palo Alto has pissed away millions studying grade separation which so far has come to naught. IMO water is more important than relieving automobile traffic congestion. With all the Stanford and Silicon Valley brainiacs around, CPA should be at the forefront in dealing with a drought.

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