Earth Week 2015: California drought

Welcome to my annual Earth Week series! I believe that protecting the Earth deserves more than one day, so I’ve given it a week. Check back every day from April 20-24 to learn about a new environmental issue (or solution!) each day.

The West is drying out. Over the past four years or so, the California drought has worsened, causing the governor of the Golden State to start a conversation about water-use restrictions.

CA Drought April 2015

I did write about water last month, highlighting how California is drying up:

Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine, recently wrote an op-ed for the LA Times stressing that California only has one year of water left. “Will you ration now?” he asks in the headline. He explains that California, which has been struggling with a massive drought the past 4 years, has about a year left of water in reservoirs, and the groundwater backup supply is dwindling, too.

Some things have changed, but others remain the same, so I curated a list of images and interactive content relating back to the drought. Most of the images paint a very powerful picture about what is happening in California.

The Green Bridge passes over full water levels near Bidwell Marina on July 20, 2011, in Oroville, California, and much lower levels on Aug. 19, 2014. Credit: California Department of Water Resources / Getty Images

1. Gifs of water loss in California’s waterways are ASTOUNDING (thanks, HuffPo). Check out the one above – it’s from Lake Oroville, a reservoir created from a dam in Oroville, California (Northern California, near Sacrament0). I mean, look at that water loss. The area is used for recreation, but it doesn’t look like people are able to do much of that. The depletion is due to the over-use of reservoirs in the state, which happens all over the country. According to Famiglietti’s op-ed, California only has a year left of reservoir water. And that’s very very scary. In Jan. 2014, I blogged about the Los Angeles reservoir, as seen from the Hollywood sign – I wonder how that’s doing…

2. The New York Times created in interactive graphic to show you just how much water each city in California is using per capita. Notice the placement of the most-used areas happen to be where agriculture is the main use of water. Gov. Jerry Brown’s water restriction policies will affect each community differently, considering some need to conserve more than others. An article from Buzzfeed also explains that more rural areas (without agriculture, necessarily) use much more water than urban areas because they have big lawns to water. Some are also in more arid areas, needing MORE water than usual to keep their plants and grass alive (which begs the question, why is there grass in the desert???). Limiting outdoor watering seems to be the key to using less resources in these areas.

3. Check out this video of the drought area, above, compiled from the US Drought Monitor by the LA Times. This data is current as of 6 months ago, so you could imagine what it might look like now.

4. Lastly, if you’re looking to cut down on water consumption, look to food. Producing food through agriculture uses 80% of California’s water supply and a large percentage of the America’s production as well. Click-through for an interactive graphic from the LA Times showing how much water your meal takes to make.

This Earth Day (or week, whichever you prefer), let’s try to use less water. Take shorter showers, use gray water to water your plants, turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth, reuse your dishwater by plugging up the sink, consolidate your laundry to use less water per article of clothing.. there are plenty of ways to make a difference. We have to start somewhere!

Check back Tuesday 4/21 for Earth Week 2: BP Oil Spill update.

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