California battles drought with statewide water cuts

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

California drought
If the drought keeps up, more of California may start resembling the Death Valley desert that stretches from the southeast of the state into Nevada.

California has been suffering from a drought, which is when a region lacks water supplies for an extended period of time, and it’s the worst one in 1,200 years. As scientists turn to unique solutions like a fog collector based on the beaks of shorebirds, Governor Jerry Brown issued the state’s first ever mandatory water reduction.

As manmade greenhouse gases create global warming by trapping the Sun’s rays inside the atmosphere like a blanket, extreme weather and chaotic temperatures have caused freezing winters, floods, and record-breaking heat across the globe.

Scientists believe this climate change is partially responsible for historically low snowfall over the Sierra peaks in California, which provide a third of the state’s water supply.

The melting snow usually travels a 300-mile path from Yosemite’s Mount Dana to the ocean, filling numerous farms and cities with water along the way. For the past 3 years, though, it’s barely covering the mountains.

Agriculture is particularly affected by the drought, which is bad news for the rest of the country because California produces half of America’s fruits and vegetables, as well as most of its tomatoes, broccoli, and artichokes. Food prices have risen sharply, because farmers are struggling to find enough water sources to keep their plants healthy.

Shorebird beaks are uniquely shaped to scoop up water and catch prey in the little droplets. Scientists are now designing new fog collectors that use similar principles.

Experts have even compared the current water shortage to the 1930s “Dust Bowl”. Back in 1934, dust storms wrecked the environment and crippled agriculture, causing the worst North American drought in 1,000 years.

Fortunately, fog may provide an answer. “Fog has a really big impact on the world we live in, particularly in the coastal areas in California,” explains Daniel Fernandez, a fog researcher from California State University, Monterey Bay.

He has set up 20 fog collectors on the California coast that can gather about 10 gallons per square meter in a day. This is particularly useful in Northern California, where the Pacific Ocean’s cold waters are absorbed into low-lying clouds that become fog when they’re blown onto the shore.

Fog collectors can work wonders in ultra-dry parts of the world. “You get more water from fog in many parts of Chile than you get from rain,” says Fernandez.

Meanwhile, Brown’s initiative will reduce water consumption by 25% in the next 9 months, limiting its use on large grassy areas like golf courses, cemeteries, and other similar spaces. The government will also replace 50 million square feet of lawn across the state with drought-resistant landscaping.

Even Texas was hit by a nasty drought last year, which was its worst in 500 years. Now, NASA predicts that more of America will experience a landscape-altering “megadrought”, lasting 20 to 40 years. Even if mankind stops air pollution from worsening by 2050, NASA says we still have a 60% chance of a megadrought, as rainfall becomes scarce and moisture is sucked from the soil.

Featured image courtesy of Don Barrett on Flickr. Image of Death Valley courtesy of QQ Li on Flickr. Image of shorebirds courtesy of Michele Lamberti on Flickr.