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Study Confirms that Climate Change Worsened California’s Drought


The cause of the drought gripping California is a topic of debate. Are the current dry conditions the result of natural variability, or are climate change and global warming to blame? A Study published in Geophysical Research Letters in August of 2015 suggests both are the cause and implies that future droughts will be even more severe than the one the state currently faces.

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According to the report, California would still be in a drought regardless of global warming, but the influence of climate change has worsened dry conditions by 27 percent. In other words, 73 percent of the drought results from natural variability, and even that amount alone would have strained the state’s infrastructure to the breaking point.

Perhaps more alarming is that those figures are rising. The next drought to hit California will be even worse because a higher percent will be driven by climate change.

Park Williams, lead author of the study and a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, explains that a warmer atmosphere intensifies the evaporation process, drawing more water out of the soil. The increase in evaporation due to climate change means California’s surface loses 3.5 inches more of water a year than it did in 1895. To counter this increased moisture loss, the state would need to receive 3.5 inches more rainfall than normal, but while global temperatures rise, rainfall trends have not changed.

The good news? Williams predicts the current drought will probably break sometime over the course of the next 24 months, but he adds a sobering caveat: The drying trend triggered by climate change will continue. While the long-term drying effect “may be hidden a little by natural variability … it is pretty certain that California by 2050 will be a different world.”

Williams suggests California should consider the present drought “a canary in a coal mine,” and take the opportunity to revise and strengthen policies and water infrastructure now in preparation for more severe droughts in the future. If the current emergency has shown us anything, it’s that the state’s water conservation program needs adjusting.

It’s not all up to the state’s government, of course. Californians have shown their willingness to improve their own water conservation — a willingness that lead to a reduction in water use by 31 percent in July of 2015 in the state’s urban centers. At Pelican, we’re doing our part by promoting our line of NaturSoft salt-free water softeners for homes in place of waste-water producing salt-based systems. By switching to a salt-free solution, you reduce your water consumption by up to 6,200 gallons a year. According to Williams, every drop of water saved now is an investment in the future.

Pelican Combo System Salt-Free Water Softener Whole-House Water Filter