Most people who live in LA are probably already aware that this year has been an especially dry one. We’ve gotten less than half of our average rainfall. But it’s really important to say that it’s not just LA and it’s not just this year. Actually, much of the Western US is dangerously dry, and there’s an increasing amount of research which seems to indicate that this could be a long-term trend. In other words, it’s likely that things will continue to get drier and hotter in LA, California and the West.
I’d been wanting to write about this for a while, but LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik saved me the trouble. He recently wrote an excellent piece laying out the serious challenges California is facing, both in the near term and the long term. To put it briefly, all of California’s water resources are declining. The snowpacks that feed our rivers and lakes are shrinking. We’ve depleted much of the groundwater that was so plentiful at the beginning of the 20th century. And because western states have been taking more water from the Colorado River than is actually available, we’ll probably continue to see reduced deliveries from Hoover Dam for the foreseeable future.
This is all very bad news.
Whether or not this dry spell is partly the result of cyclical changes in the weather, research increasingly shows that climate change is going to take a serious toll on LA and the West. It seems inevitable that some farmland will have to be taken out of production, though that will be a difficult and hugely controversial process. Many species of California’s trout, steelhead and salmon will probably be extinct by the end of this century. And while we’ve all seen the horrific damage that wildfire has caused in California’s vast natural forests, we should also be worried about the less visible but still serious impacts to our urban forests.
Here in LA we may be spared from having to take immediate action to deal with this crisis. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Metropolitan Water District have been managing our resources carefully, building up reserves that could see us through the next few years. But I’m afraid this is creating a false sense of security. The way it looks now, it’s not just a matter of riding out a few dry years until things go back to normal. This is the new normal. Even if annual precipitation stays roughly the same in the future, shrinking snowpacks and the decline of the Colorado River mean water deliveries to the LA will continue to fall, and we have limited groundwater resources. Unfortunately, our local leaders don’t seem to want to deal with this situation. LA’s Mayor and City Council have been silent on this issue, and I don’t hear anything from the Board of Supervisors, either. Maybe they think that if they just ignore the problem it will go away.
This problem isn’t going away. We need to start dealing with it. Hiltzik explains how serious and how widespread the challenges are. The time to act is now.