This post was originally published on the Nature Conservancy blog.
By Mark Tercek, Giulio Boccaletti & Brian Stranko
Last week, government scientists issued their strongest forecast yet for what some are calling a “Godzilla” El Niño. It’s looking more and more likely that the periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean—which can trigger heavy rainfall over the western U.S.-– will bring some relief to drought-weary Californians.
But will it be enough?
In short, no. The last five years are the driest on the state’s record book, and snowpack in the Sierra Nevada—which provides water to six in 10 Californians—hit an all-time low. Farmers and cities are tapping aquifers to maintain supply, but even those are drying up. Rivers and streams that support fish and other wildlife have been reduced to a trickle, and wetlands that provide homes to migrating birds are shrinking.
Even a massive El Niño is unlikely to reverse a drought of these proportions. State water officials estimate it would take 150% of average annual precipitation totals to offset the state’s massive water deficit. That’s more than any El Niño winter on record.
While Californians hope for rain, it remains crucial for the state to improve its long-term water management. Here are some steps to take right now.
1.) Measure it, so we can manage it: Currently, there’s no way to accurately measure total water needs, water use and available supply in California. Real-time data on water needs and availability would enable the state to improve the precision of water flows to people and nature. The more precise we can be, the better we can allocate water and buffer the impact of future droughts.
Measuring the water depth of irrigation ditches allows us to better manage water for cropland use. © Erika Nortemann
2.) Be smart about surpluses: Even as water efficiency increases, any surpluses should be treated with care. This is especially important in agriculture. Farmers are becoming better water managers, but their water savings shouldn’t necessarily be applied to growing additional crops. Water efficiency is a great first step, but it’s important to consider the most productive use of water across all needs.
Water efficiency and smart use of water surpluses are important for all California stakeholders, especially farmers. © Chris Helzer
Continue reading the full post here.