C Mag Simplifies: The Drought


Teddie Stewart



What do long showers, car washes and watering grass have in common? They are all competing factors worsening the drought. Around three years ago, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, declared that California was officially in a drought. Close to 33 million people are affected by the drought, and even with the recent spike in rainfall, it remains an important issue. The lack of both rain and snowfall has dried our reservoirs; California’s main source of water comes from the Hetch Hetchy, but as of now, we are using different water sources to compensate for the shortage in our primary water-providing reservoir.


A drought occurs when there is an imbalance in the water cycle, specifically when there is an increase in evaporation and a decrease in precipitation, and this is often influenced by climate change. Rising global temperatures can affect the amount of time it takes clouds to form, how often clouds produce precipitation, the amount of rainfall, the rate at which water evaporates and the wind patterns that carry clouds across different regions. California’s state of extreme drought in 2014 was a result of a high pressure zone in the atmosphere, dubbed the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge,” a four miles high and 2000 miles long pressure zone located off the West Coast. While these “mountains” of air pressure are not uncommon, they usually break down and bring rain to California. This zone had been in place for an unprecedented amount of time, resulting in the severe lack of rain.


California is sinking

Because of the lack of surface water in California, several industries have started using groundwater, or water that is pulled from beneath Earth’s surface. In fact, 60% of water used by farmers comes from the soil. But, with the use of groundwater comes severe consequences. When water is drained from the soil, land and aquifers contract, similar to the manner in which a mattress deflates. Excessive extraction of groundwater has caused parts of California to sink, and this can eventually spell disaster for people living on the California coast. California’s use of groundwater could be a major factor that will cause San Francisco to sink underwater as soon as 2050.

Seawater intrusion

Seawater intrusion occurs when saltwater from the ocean enters aquifers, and while seawater intrusion occurs naturally, the process is exacerbated due to the extraction of groundwater. Because human use of groundwater has caused the earth to sink, the levels of groundwater and aquifers have fallen as well, and this makes it easier for saltwater to flow inland. Much of the water we drink is obtained from groundwater aquifers, so as groundwater becomes increasingly contaminated by saltwater from the ocean, our supply of water will be reduced further.


Persistent rainfall helps relieve drought, so California is out of the drought!

People think that large amounts of rainfall can end the drought. While consistent rainfall can help improve conditions, the reality is that most of the rain runs into draining channels and streams rather than soaking into the ground, but during times of drought, the soil becomes too dry to absorb water. Runoff water also contains sediment and pollutants that are washed from the ground. The best situation during a drought is for water to soak into the soil, and this only occurs when rainfall is spread out over months rather than simply a couple of days or weeks.

We shouldn’t be worried because prices for produce haven’t changed as a result of the drought.

Retail prices for vegetables and fruits have been changing, but studies show that it isn’t in response to the drought. While this may be seen as positive to consumers, it actually shows something very worrisome to Californians: The price of produce hasn’t changed because farmers still have access to water due to continued unsustainable agriculture pumping for groundwater.


The drought has ravaged some of California’s nicest landscapes, so what can we, as Palo Altans, do to help our state recover? Most people know that our state is in an extreme drought, yet the water consumption remains alarmingly high. It may be as easy as taking a shorter shower, but for some, that seems impossible to give up; luckily, there are many alternatives to this. The average person uses 80 to 100 gallons of water a day, so it’s important to do what we can to reduce water consumption.

• Remember that the dishwashers and washing machines use loads of water, so consider doing dishes and laundry by hand every so often.

• The average flush uses around 1.6 gallons of water and is the largest user of household water, so don’t flush as much.

• Grass is not native to California — people should use Californian grass which is accustomed to less water.

• Turn off the faucet when the water is no longer needed, specifically when brushing your teeth.