California suffers its worst drought in over 100 years
California suffering worst drought in over a century
Governor calls a state of emergency as 90 per cent suffers from unprecedented drought
Nick Allen By Nick Allen, Los Angeles6:33PM GMT 20 Jan 2014
California has declared an emergency with 90 per cent of America’s most populous state now suffering severe drought, following its driest year since records began 119 years ago.
Governor Jerry Brown has called on all citizens to voluntarily cut their use of water by 20 per cent as farmers find themselves unable to water their cattle, ski resorts remained parched in January, and meteorologists warned of a “giant fire year” ahead with no rain on the horizon.
While much of the rest of the US was hit by a polar vortex earlier this month, which brought bitter cold and snow, California continued to bake – leaving reservoirs and rivers depleted.
The Sierra Nevada snow pack, from which much of the state’s water ultimately originates, is now at 17 per cent of its normal January level.
The Golden State is, as one climatologist put it, “as dry as a box of popcorn in the desert”.
“We’re facing perhaps the worst drought California has ever seen since records began being kept about 100 years ago,” according to Brown. “It’s important to wake all Californians to the serious matter of the drought and lack of rain.
“We are in an unprecedented, very serious situation. We ought to be ready for a long, continued, persistent effort to restrain our water use. This is not a partisan adversary. This is Mother Nature. This is an effort to call for arms.”
In Sacramento, the state capital, half a million people have already been ordered to reduce water use by 30 per cent after the reservoir at nearby Folsom Lake fell to 18 per cent capacity.
As the water disappeared the remnants of a long submerged Gold Rush town were revealed, attracting curious amateur archaeologists.
Bishop Jaime Soto, president of the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged people to ask God to send rain. In a prayer he said: “May God open the heavens and let his mercy rain down upon our fields and mountains. Our reliance on water reveals how much we are part of creation, and creation is a part of us.”
Salatul Istisqa, the traditional Muslim prayer for rain, is also being offered at mosques in the Central Valley, California’s scorched agricultural heartland.
The population of California has nearly doubled from 20 million to 38 million since the 1970s, increasing pressure on its water resources. It also produces nearly half of America’s fruit and vegetables, meaning the drought could have dire consequences for the rest of the country. Among other crops, 80 per cent of the world’s almonds are grown in California.
According to local reports 200,000 acres of prime farmland may remain unplanted this year near the agricultural town of Fresno.
Kevin Kester, 58, a cattle farmer in central California, said: “I am a fifth generation cattle rancher and it has never been this bad ever in my lifetime. And from my family’s history, it’s never been anywhere close to this bad, ever. Right now we’re just trying to figure out how we’re going to survive.”
With ski resorts left barren, major resorts have invested millions of dollars in snow-making machines. At Heavenly, Squaw Valley, Kirkwood and Mammoth, which are usually blanketed naturally in December, almost all of the snow has been made by machines. Smaller resorts without machines remain closed. “If it wasn’t for snow making we probably wouldn’t be open,” the head snow maker at Heavenly told the San Jose Mercury. At Mammoth there were reports of bears coming out of hibernation three months early.
Yosemite National Park, normally the reserve of cross country skiiers and snow-shoers in January, is instead offering horseback and mountain bike tours. The park is encouraging tourists to enjoy “Juneuary in Yosemite”.
This weekend the bone dry conditions saw 800 firefighters tackling a a wildfire raging just outside Los Angeles where foliage should still be wet.
Hundreds of people were evacuated from a suburb. Los Angeles, which averages 14.74 inches of rain, received a record low of 3.4 inches in 2013.
Meteorologists have blamed the drought on on a massive zone of high pressure off the Pacific coast which has been stopping storms hitting California for more than a year, pushing them north towards Canada.