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How bad is California’s drought?

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If you live in California, you know what happened this winter and spring.

In December, it rained, and rained, and rained or, if you were in the mountains, snowed and snowed. In parts of the Sierra Nevada, December, 2012 was the second snowiest ever measured.

It was reassuring news to a state that gets most of its water from snowmelt–especially after the parched December of 2011, when the snowpack was only 14% of average.

But a funny thing happened as soon as 2012 turned into 2013. The rain stopped. Seriously stopped. January and February were the driest months ever recorded in California. March brought a little rain, but not enough to help. Last week, the government released its “drought monitor”, which declared that most of Central and Southern California is suffering from “severe” drought, while the north is experiencing moderate drought.

Moreover, the National Weather Service is predicting “Persistent” drought throughout all of California (and most of the West).

Just this past week, the California Department of Water Resources published, on their website, a drought statement that begins with this alarming statement: “It’s official. The 2013 January-May period is the driest on record (since 1920) for all regions of the Sierra.”

The arid conditions already are beginning to threaten vines. San Luis Obispo County (including Paso Robles) “face[s] spending hundreds of millions of dollars for new water sourcesleaving the area even more short of water at a time when vineyards are planting as many as 8,000 new acres of wine grapes.”

In the North Coast, Sonoma County has been under an official federal “disaster declaration for drought” since January, 2012,

Grapes being the thirsty plants they are, California growers are having to look at their options, including more efficient use of existing water sources. Those who dry farm–a minority–are on safer ground than those who depend on irrigation. California’s senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein, just two days ago, noting “how bone dry the state is so early in the summer season,” called for “[e]xpanding and improving California’s water storage capacity”; if that is not done, she predicted, “California is at risk of becoming a desert state.”

Water shortages are nothing new for California, but they seem to be happening more frequently; and with vineyard acreage expanding, water–or, more precisely, the lack of it–could emerge to be the biggest problem the wine industry faces.

  1. Back in the day I overheard my grandfather say “It’s so dry I’m spittin cotton..”, and you can certainly hear the same sentiment among many of the wine grape farmers in wine country today. Drought is is certainly no joking matter and I feel it would be a wise move to work on improving California’s water infrastructure. Because, without water… we don’t have much. That said, I hope next fall, winter and spring bring the rains snow we’re more accustomed to receiving. In the meantime, I am going to continue drinking wine and breaking out in the occasional rain dance.

  2. Winedude says:

    Quit planting grapes in Paso Robles. While there is SOME excellent wine made in the area, most of it is very ordinary, at best.

  3. Here in the Central Coast, in Paso Robles, we’re seeing massive effects of the wine industry on local residents. The water basin has dropped drastically as the vineyards flourished. Many rural landowners have lost their water. We’re hoping/wishing/praying that the responsible vineyards can begin consuming less water, otherwise we’re going to be homeless.

    http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2013/06/16/2548687/wineries-water-supply-vineyards.html

  4. Carlos T says:

    Let’s all pray the thousands of golf courses may continue to deplete the water-tables from everywhere, after all no one wants or needs to use that salty (and “tired”) water anymore.

    Life’s no fun without food, but even less so without irrigated golf courses in the middle of deserts.

  5. Grapes thirsty? Compared to what other crops?
    Quoting Sen Feinstein about water policy especially for Central Coast & SoCal is like quoting like quoting Jodia Arias about relationships, very skewed!

    To paraphrase a past comedian; move to whee the water is, don’t try to grow where it is not!?!?

  6. [Sam Kinnison]MOVE TO WHERE THE WATER IS!!!![/Sam Kinison]

  7. Erom Retaw says:

    The entire situation is so immensely saddening. The vast majority of what is being discussed and published is soley in regard to the waters shortages effect on commerce. Please don’t mistake me for a naive citizen, but this is absolute lunacy. The bottom line is not our annual profit margin, or what industry is bringing our cities the most economic growth, thus awarding them unchecked water rights. The bottom line is life. And for that, at its most basic level, which we are all going to be forced to recon with very soon, is food, shelter, and WATER! And the saddest and most disgusting part of all of this is that we are creating this. Central and southern California was already a high desert climate before we so massively populated it. And now, not only have we poorly abused any notion of responsible water usage, we have over farmed, plowed, and developed so much soil and removed so much of its natural ability to repair itself, that we have actually and unwittingly engineered a climate that has shifted so rapidly and disastrously that it is unable to regenerate any rain. We are all guilty at every level. And if you really want to understand this insanity further, study how our privatized water it handled at a political level. Meaning…..research how our water contracts actually work. Then you will really realize whom has the power. Time to wake up!

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