California concluded its fourth full year of drought on Sept. 30 and the effects of a long-term water deficit continue to increase.
The recent Butte and Valley fires account for the loss of 3,000 structures and six human lives, bringing the costs of the drought to measurable and devastating light.
“Our soil profiles have never been drier,” said David Dodson, environmental science professor at Delta College. “Plants continue sucking out of that already dry profile and dry them out so they have very low moisture content.”
When the soil is dry, prolific native plants such as manzanita and coyote bush become dry and highly flammable, contributing to the heat and spread of forest fires.
A study available on the USGS website reports that, “Pervasive warming can be expected to increase the incidence of high severity fire by creating conditions where lower fuel moisture results in fires of higher intensity.”
The overuse of tap water and the massive demands of an agricultural economy are not the cause, nor is reduction the cure for damage to our natural resources.
The rising temperatures and persistence of drought are part of the phenomenon of climate change caused by the buildup of greenhouse gasses that are byproducts of human industry.
According to the NOAA website, the average temperature in California over the last year was 4.2 degrees higher than the 20th century average.
The low level of precipitation, combined with higher temperatures that cause more evaporation of standing water, has led to depletion of our underground water supplies.
One of the greatest hopes for rain and snow to fill our aquifers and cover our mountains this year comes in the form of a warm ocean event known as El Niño.
“The odds for a wet winter across the entire state improve the stronger the El Niño event is, and the 2015-16 event is currently forecast to remain strong through winter,” according to a new analysis by the NOAA Drought Task Force.
However, in order to bring the central valley back to the 50th percentile of five year accumulated precipitation it would need to bring nearly 300 percent of the average annual precipitation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s climate.gov website.
Even if that happened, the issue of a finite water supply would not be solved, only temporarily relieved.
“The one and only thing that can avoid the bulk of risks that would come with unbridled climate change is rapid carbon dioxide reduction,” said Professor John Schellnhuber in a press release for a recent United Nations Environmental Programme report.