Climate change is one of the most pressing concerns our civilization has. Time Magazine paints a grim picture of what the role is likely to look like in less than thirty years if we don't address the issue. However, it's not as simple as changing one thing. Several inputs and outputs affect climate change. There's no question that leaving it unattended could spell disaster for some communities, however. One by one, these communities will see an evident difference in their climate and weather. The American West is one of those areas that is seeing a definite shift in the environment.
Known for Drought In the Past
The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) mentions that California has recorded drought conditions during several periods in its history. Yet, in recent years, the area's drought conditions have been sustained. From agricultural production to basic necessities for living, everything has been affected by water shortages. Light winter snowfall coupled with low rainfall across the last few years have caused significant changes. The area is now facing a water shortage stemming from the loss of water income from these sources.
New Mexico is another state that has recently seen lower water income. It's gotten so bad that authorities have started to defer water allotments to farmers. In some cases, they've even asked farmers to stop growing crops. New Mexico and California are only two states in the American West, but they aren't alone in this struggle. More than 80% of the American West is currently suffering from low rainfall and demonstrating drought conditions on a massive scale.
A Compound Problem
This season's monsoon was far less intense than in previous decades. It would be tempting to blame this on a La Niña system that's pushing storms more north of the West, but that would be too easy. The truth is that this year's dry season is compounded from several others over the last ten years. This period is the driest the region has seen since the 1500s. The lowered rainfall is combined with rising temperatures to create a dangerous situation. Whatever little water makes it to the surface is quickly evaporated, leaving parched surfaces and dusty landscapes behind. As temperatures continue to remain high, it could mean more sustained droughts in the region. Several years of moderate drought may become a "megadrought."
Addressing the Looming Shortages
States aren't simply observing the situation. Several legislatures have put things in place to ease the problems caused by lack of water. California has proposed to spend more than $5 billion to shore up the state's water infrastructure and provide emergency water relief. The governor has also declared drought emergencies. These declarations affected 42 counties, covering Northern California and the Central Valley. Other counties are dealing with the situation in different ways. Marin, which lies just north of San Francisco, is concerned about supplying its residents. The county suffered a near-record low in rainfall this year. Local administrators have considered building a pipeline to ensure an uninterrupted water supply.
The lack of water also has implications for the region's fire control schemes. Because of the low water income and the high temperatures, fires are likely to be even more devastating this season. Recent fires near Los Angeles burned over 1000 acres of forest. It led to hundreds of people having to flee their homes. While some elements of fire risk can be predicted, others aren't so simple to spot in advance. The ones that researchers can predict are already pointing to devastating fires happening more often.
Managing Water in a Changing Climate
The changing climate means that governments will need to adjust how they manage their water resources. California, in particular, has a history of severe low rainfall followed by a massive influx of water. However, this doesn't create a very balanced solution. Average precipitation over fifty years may remain the same. But that average encompasses very wet periods and arid periods. Shorter windows demonstrate a more erratic behavior for the weather. With the changing weather patterns due to increased temperature and other factors, a new mindset may be necessary. States like New Mexico and California may need to consider drought as the default for the area's climate.
This changed mindset would require rethinking how the area deals with water sourcing and distribution. Aquifers will become a more critical resource in the coming years. Recycling water and more efficient use of business energy to keep water resources clean might make a difference to supply problems. Cleanup for contaminated aquifers and streams may also need to be considered. Environmental change and responsibility play a significant part in ensuring everyone has enough water for their daily needs. Authorities will need to hold corporate entities responsible for their water use and wastage. This megadrought may not end any time soon. Careful use of resources is the only way to deal with the issue.