With a powerful El Niño expected to bring heavy precipitation to drought-stricken California, some wondered if the end of urban water restrictions was in sight. Such hopes, unfortunately, may be premature.
In a November executive order, Governor Jerry Brown called for an extension of water restrictions until drought conditions improve. The new order keeps urban water restrictions in effect until October 2016 should drought conditions persist into January. But, why extend the restrictions when a wet winter is predicted? Although El Niño will likely bring torrential rains to some areas of the state, other areas will miss out on the downpours and remain under drought conditions. Precipitation from El Niño is also expected to fall mostly in the southern portion of the state. Northern California, where most of the state’s water supply originates, is unlikely to receive much in the way of relief.
The extra precipitation produced by El Niño may bring other problems to the state. Heavy rain after periods of extreme drought can cause mudslides, especially in areas where wildfires have stripped the land of stabilizing vegetation. It’s also important to remember, El Niño is often followed by El Niña, a cooling of Pacific Ocean water that brings dry conditions to the southwest. An El Niña could further extend the drought that researchers already believe is the worst to hit the state in centuries.
As a Californian, how can you help (and avoid the steep fines many municipalities now charge for exceeding water restrictions)? Most water conservation steps are simple tasks such as fixing leaking faucets and switching to low-flow showerheads. In one of our most popular posts, we provide 100 ways to conserve water that we think you’ll find helpful.
In some strange way, the drought offers a chance to reevaluate how we use and value one of the world’s most precious resources. Let’s not squander this opportunity.