Image via Pixabay
Image via Pixabay

In an essay published Wednesday, a team of scientists from UC Irvine and elsewhere called for more long-term water conservation strategies that go beyond just addressing the current drought, as rising demand and climate change affect the supply.

The essay was written for the journal Nature by civil and environmental engineer Amir AghaKouchak, political scientist David Feldman and ecology and evolutionary biologist Travis Huxman — all of UCI — as well as Martin Hoerling of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Jay Lund of UC Davis.

The current drought, which started in 2012, is the worst in more than a century, the scientists wrote.

“Temperatures are breaking records and the region is down a year’s worth of rainfall,” their essay says.

Economic losses amounted to $2.2 billion last year with more than 17,000 jobs lost, mainly in poorer, rural communities. About 12 million trees have died and the drought is having “cascading impacts” on wildlife, according to the scientists.

Water demand has almost doubled since 1950 in California, they say.

“Whether California’s drought is linked to the potential of rising greenhouse-gas emissions to increase the frequency of extreme weather is being debated,” the scientists wrote. “The rise in water demands is not.”

The experts say “overuse and obsolete management of scarce water resources are exacerbating the current drought’s impacts. Past leaders legislated for an invested in measures and infrastructure to boost supplies as demand grew. Now the state is nearing its water limits and can no longer simply build its way out.”

The scientists predicted that the state’s drought is a “harbinger of things to come around the world, wherever population and industries are growing.”

They called for “more studies and legislative consideration of the human impacts on water stress caused by urbanization, greenhouse-gas emissions and food and energy production, as well as for policy and management practices more suitable to prosperous economies and developed water systems.”

The authors praised the state’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 as a “major breakthrough for sustaining groundwater,” but lamented that it “is expected to take decades.”

They criticized legislation approved last month by the House of Representatives that aims to “offer some drought relief to Californian farmers and growers at the cost of protecting endangered fish…. Such dramatic policy responses may have irreversible impacts such as the extinction of native fishes.”

Though it is unclear how much climate change is affecting the drought, the scientists predict that future water shortages “will be compounded by more intense heat waves and more wildfires. Soaring temperatures will increase demand for energy just when water for power generation and cooling is in short supply.”

They say new strategies must be implemented and California residents “must learn to live with its dry climate. Rather than responding to crises, the state needs a proactive and long-term drought-management plan that considers all sectors, including the environment.”

They also cited a need for better ways to monitor droughts and predict them.

— City News Service 

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