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Friday, January 15, 2016

Forget El Niño: California May Never Get Out of Drought, UC Berkeley Prof Says

Posted By on Fri, Jan 15, 2016 at 12:52 PM

click to enlarge Last year's snowpack — the snowpack of the future?
  • Last year's snowpack — the snowpack of the future?

It's an El Niño winter, and the news is full of rain, sleet, and snow. If only California was as well.

Precipitation so far in this wet winter that is supposed to save us from the worst drought of our lifetimes is only slightly above "normal"  — and in some parts of California, including the southern Sierra, precipitation is still below normal.

Think about that. The long-awaited wet weather event has, so far, just barely pushed things to around what's supposed to be "normal."

This may be a hard fact to fathom this weekend, as you drive through more rain in order to reach the snowed-in approaches to Lake Tahoe — lucky you; drive safely — but other scientists agree. The four-year drought that's seen reservoirs and groundwater supplies dry up is not over — not unless several more El Niños follow on this one's heels. 

In fact, according to one U.C. Berkeley researcher, the state may never recover from the drought.
First, let's take a peek at conditions as of now.

click to enlarge drouhgt.jpg

That dark red splotch of the worst-possible drought conditions? That's most of us. 

As for the dire prediction that very dry may be the new normal, that's from Berkeley professor B. Lynn Ingram, one of the two authors of a book, The West Without Water, which predicts just such a dire, dry future.

Ingram thinks that rainfall for the 2015-2016 water year — the rainy period that normally runs from October to April — will be at 170 percent of normal. That's wet — very wet. But that won't make up for the four preceding exceptionally dry years, and it also won't help next year, when some scientists believe a dry La Niña will appear.

click to enlarge snow.jpg
"We’re in a water deficit of at least two years in most of California," Ingram told Berkeley News's Anne Brice. "This means we would need more than a year of precipitation like this."

"It’s not likely we’ll come out of this drought. With climate change, California and the Southwest are predicted to get drier overall with warmer weather and, subsequently, more evaporation," she added. "Even with a wetter season this year, even next year, the climate is very likely to continue to be drier."

The idea that a dry future is connected to climate is gaining traction.. in some circles. This week, President Barack Obama announced a temporary halt to new leases to coal miners wishing to dig on federal lands.
Climate change was, predictably and unfortunately, utterly absent from last night's Republican presidential debate.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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