Photo: Nick Marinoff
California’s Drought Has Turned It Into a Literal Golden State
On a recent excursion through California’s northern territories, I was treated to a vast array of gold – acres of fields and plant-life that had died out thanks to the region’s non-improving weather conditions. It was enough to make King Midas jealous. California is often referred to as the “Golden State,” so what I saw almost felt natural in a sense.
And yet seeing all that gold didn’t fill me with joy. Seeing all that gold was just another reminder of California’s five-year drought – a drought that scientists say could last another three to four years before it improves.
1) The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge
To an extent, we can take pride in the fact that we are not doing everything wrong. Scientists explain that the drought is not man-made. Rather, California’s lagging water supplies can be attributed to what is believed to be a natural phenomenon.
Pressure off the western coast has grown over the years. Meteorologists estimate that this pressure now extends over 2,000 miles and stands several hundred feet high. One researcher has labeled it the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” in its absolute refusal to shrink. The spiking air has blocked a number of Pacific storms from reaching California’s coastal ridges. A state that many once felt had perfect weather is now being robbed of its cold fronts, which are regularly pushed north towards British Colombia. Pressure zones typically break down over time, but this one has proven quite stubborn, and appears steady enough to last a good while.
“It’s like the Sierra,” says Monterey forecaster Bob Benjamin. “A mountain range just sitting off the West Coast – only bigger. This ridge is sort of a mountain in the atmosphere.”
The pressure has prevented rain, snow and cloud-formation over the last five years, and according to Climate Central, nearly 90 percent of the state has fallen victim to “extreme” or exceptionally dry conditions.
While the drought may not be man-made, we’re not doing enough to alleviate it. My trip revealed evidence of logging and deforestation; large patches of woods missing throughout California’s northern wilderness. Several trucks passed me on the road hauling tree trunks stripped of their branches and ready for use in possible construction projects.
Tree removal won’t lessen the drought. Actually, it tends to make things worse. Deforestation releases stored carbon dioxide. Trees work as natural “green prisons,” harvesting and collecting greenhouse gases over lengthy periods. When cut down, trees expel these gases back into the air we breathe. Emissions can heighten the effects of climate change and redirect cloud movements, which may lead to lesser rainfall and drier weather. Trees also release water vapor, which can potentially aid drought-ridden regions. The more we cut down, the drier California will be.
Another problem stems from California’s role as an agricultural hub. During my drive, I saw more farms, including dairy farms, in four hours than I think I have in my whole life. Farms account for more than one-third of the planet’s greenhouse gases. Additional studies estimate that dairy farms produce nearly 40,000 pounds of toxic emissions per lasting season. As previously stated, higher emissions can give rise to parched climates, keeping the Golden State less green than we’d prefer.
And let’s not forget those raging wildfires. It was during my travels that California was hit by two of its largest wildfires this year – one in Santa Clarita and one near Big Sur. For several miles, I was treated to a browning sky; dark clouds of smoke that caused the sun to look like nothing but a dandelion in a vat of dirt.
No doubt the state’s lack of water has contributed to wildfires. In fact, statistics show that fires have only increased since the drought began, and dead or dying trees have left much to be desired. They’re dying of thirst, which may potentially be sparking our respective logging efforts. The more we clear, the safer we’ll be, but while the fires were handled accordingly, it’s only a matter of time before the flames strike up again.
There Is Plenty of Room for Improvement
My travels offered a faint glimmer of hope on Mt. Shasta. Despite 90 degree temperatures and growing heat swells, Shasta glistened majestically under the white layers of a recent snowfall. That’s right, snow. In the summer. Weather reports say the snow is limited, but in my mind, a frosted mountaintop in what are alleged to be the hottest temperatures on record is worth noting. A snow-covered mountain amidst growing heat and 32 percent humidity is a sign that California isn’t done fighting.
And at the base of the mountain were forests: miles and miles of greenery to show us that California’s beauty has yet to fade. Without water, things couldn’t be that green, but it served as a hearty reminder that we cannot take anything for granted, and that no matter how desperate or foolhardy we become, we should be intelligent enough to control ourselves. The drought may exist, but that doesn’t mean we need to aggravate it.
Improvements to the drought can be made on the individual level, starting with where we live. People want to move here, but constructing more homes is a mistake while there are plenty of foreclosed or vacated units to choose from. California has held one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country since the Great Recession, and that rate has increased by nearly eight percent since last December. In fact, it’s estimated that one in every 1,200 homes in California has been foreclosed. Surely, there are several bank-owned properties for buyers to choose from. In turn, we have the power to lessen our logging efforts and lower our contributions to deforestation and carbon takeover (less building could also strengthen present home values).
Methods for green farming have also proven popular in Africa and Europe. With enough time, these methods could ultimately transform California’s operations into something spectacular and environmentally conscious. Things like managing nitrogen and tillage levels will have significant impacts on our atmosphere, and one source shows California as following the same agricultural trends for almost 30 years. In an age of growing technology and innovation, it’s hard to offer any excuse for that.
Power lies within the people and state enterprises. One less bath a week isn’t likely to hurt, nor will fewer days spent watering lawns. Unless a customer asks, complimentary water in restaurants should be put on hold, and please don’t ever leave the water running unless you have to.
Let this be a call to arms. The drought has rendered us vulnerable, not helpless. Trump’s presidential slogan centers on “Making America Great Again.” Through knowledge and cooperation, we can do the same for California. Together, we can make the Golden State great once again.