On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor confirmed that California is in the midst of the worst drought ever recorded by the agency.
In just one week, the percentage of the state experiencing “Exceptional Drought” – the most severe of the five drought categories – jumped from 36.5 percent to 58.4 percent.
Mark Svboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Nebraska told Mashable that 100 percent of the state is now in “severe drought” or worse. Though the Drought Monitor only began issuing reports in 1999, Svboda explained that the current drought is “more severe in many ways than a landmark drought in the late 1970s, and is comparable, if not worse than, events that occurred since instrument records began in the mid-19th century.”
The dwindling water supplies and continuing high temperatures are expected to deal major blows to California’s $44.7 billion agricultural industry. About $810 million in crop revenues will be lost, $203 million from livestock and dairy farms, and almost half a billion dollars will be spent just to pump more water from the ground – water that is disappearing faster than initial estimates predicted. In all, the drought is expected to cost the state $2.2 billion in 2014.
The drought is also having unforeseen side effects, such as an increase in the risk of earthquakes. Colin Amos, Assistant Professor at Western Washington University, recently published a study in the journal Nature that links the decrease in groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley with increasing pressure on the San Andreas fault.
“The upward portion of the earth behaves elastically — if you push on it and remove that force, it snaps back,” he said. California formerly had a layer of groundwater weighing down its subsurface rocks. Without that water, the rocks rise and cause shifts in the ground.
Californians now face mandatory water restrictions for running hoses while washing their cars or watering their lawns during peak temperature hours. The most expensive fines will reach $500, though they may increase if the state finds them ineffective.