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Does a Drought Ever Really End? Looking Back at the California 2011-2014 Drought by Barnard Blogger Lauren Aboodi

California droughts have been a constant issue for California residents. Researchers have continued to study the variability of these droughts and how common their occurrences have become in relation to the past. A study done by researchers, Daniel Griffin and Kevin J. Anchukaitis entitled, “How unusual is the 2012-2014 drought”, investigates the 2012-2014 drought in the context of the last 1200 years by creating two paleo-climate reconstructions. Through their research, they found that this drought was the most severe drought of the millennium, but not necessarily outside the range of possible natural variability (Griffin et. al2014). In regard of the causation of the drought, Griffin and Anchukaitis concluded that reduced precipitation and record high temperatures were key factors (Griffin et. al 2014). Richard Seager and others investigated the causes of the droughts in California from 2011-2014 in their study, Causes of the 2011-2014 California drought. They found that in addition to natural variability in precipitation, the long-term warming trend of climate change most likely was one of the factors of the droughts. In another study conducted by Richard Seager and other colleagues, they found similar results. According to their study entitled, “Contribution of anthropogenic warming to California drought during 2012-2014”, although precipitation is the main factor in what controls the range of droughts in California, anthropogenic warming was responsible for 8-27% of the drought in 2012-2014 and 5-18% in 2014 (Williams et. al 2015). This suggests that while natural variability is a strong factor, climate change has increased the overall amount of occurrences of droughts in the region.

The relationship between droughts and climate change is explored in Michael E.Mann and Peter H. Gleick’s article, “Climate change and California drought in the 21st century”, which explores the relationship between dry years and warm years. Their article suggests that more and more evidence is supporting the conclusion that climate change is affecting how often droughts occur, how large they are, and how long they last (Mann et. al 2015). While warmer temperature may not directly affect the amount of precipitation, it does affect the amount of water available. The connection between higher temperatures and droughts is that they are both extreme variables that negatively affect the amount of water available to California residents. In the article, Global warming and changes in risk of concurrent climate extremes: Insights from the 2014 California drought, by Amir AghaKouchak and others, they discuss how the understanding of droughts could be negatively impacted by discounting or completely ignoring the rising temperature that is concurrent with the drought. Understanding the changing climate as a contribution to the harsh results of a drought is key to mitigating and dealing with droughts in the future. A drought itself, is difficult for residents to deal with and puts the water supply in danger.

In addition to this issue, the study, California drought increases CO2 footprint of energy, In Sustainable Cities and Society, by E. Hardin and others, found that the carbon dioxide footprint in California increased 33% annually as compared to emissions prior to the drought (Hardin et. al 2017). This study demonstrates how when droughts occur in California energy usage increases. Hardin and others investigate how the distribution of water and attempts to save it domestically during the California drought were not necessarily successful because of the competitive usage in urban, ecological, and industrial spheres (Hardin et. al). While water conservation is an important aspect to water-energy planning, it is not solely responsible for the increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, as climate changes occur there needs to be nationwide planning to deal with drought occurrences and energy usage on a larger scale.

It is easy to forget about a drought after the extreme regulations are ended because it appears to be over. Julie Lurie, journalist for Mother Jones, discusses this in her article, “Yes, California Has Been Getting Rain. But the Drought Isn’t Over Yet”. Although in 2017 it is raining and the drought looks over, it is not. More planning progress is needed for the future of California’s environmental health and energy usage reduction. According to Lurie, groundwater supply is still low and the issues of over-pumping are still present (Lurie 2017). There’s less stress to create change and improve the water-energy plan when the droughts effects aren’t being felt by California residents. As Lurie quotes Peter Glieck, chief scientist and president emeritus of the Pacific Institute, “A couple wet years and the pressure disappears for a while” (Lurie 2017). The response to the apparent end of the California drought and forgotten negative effects is indicative of a larger problem. We only want to change and plan when we’re receiving the brunt of a problem like having to shorten showers or not water lawns. However, once the drought appears to have ended, the conservation tasks and general improvements to the water-system diminish (Lurie 2017).


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One Response

  1. This was a really interesting post! I don’t remember the specifics of this drought very well, but remembered feeling like California was ALWAYS in a drought. I thought your point that once a drought ends, the efforts to mitigate the effects becomes less important. How would you suggest keeping up the efforts? What do you think California could do to keep attention on this important subject?

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