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How Bad Is California’s Drought?

Hint: it’s pretty bad

(Bill Varie/CORBIS)
smithsonian.com

When the United Nations issued its recent report on world water development, it painted a dire picture of the consequences of unsustainable growth, including an “increasingly severe global water deficit” that it predicts will affect everything from social equity to sanitation. In the United States, California is at the center of the nation’s water worries—and now, a number of recent reports show just how bad California’s drought has become.

Seven of 14 Lake Tahoe ski resorts have shut down due to record low snow levels, reports Nick Kirkpatrick for the Washington Post. And, the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory, which usually has over three meters of snow at this point in the season, recorded zero snow depth in March for the first time in its history. Kirkpatrick also reports that this is not likely to be an anomaly—a state climatologist told him that “years like this winter will definitely become more the norm.”

Meanwhile, California farmers are feeling the impact of parched conditions, too. KRCR reports that vintners are starting to worry that dry conditions might threaten grape crops and deplete nutrients in the soil. And some farmers are skipping farming altogether this year, notes CBS, choosing instead to sell water rights to the state instead of planting crops.

As skiers mourn dirty slopes and farmers look for other options, what’s a dry state to do? Act now, urges Wired’s Annie Sneed. “Ultimately, the government may have to take water away from farms and give it to the public for basic health and sanitation,” says Sneed. But there’s another California export that could save the state’s water supply, she notes: tech. As the state watches its water table fall, keep an eye out for novel ways to capture, process and recycle what is quickly becoming the state’s most precious resource.

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