California_Drought_Dry_Riverbed_2009

You know, there is a reason they call California the Golden State. It’s not for its bright sunshine or the bronzed skin that you might find on some of its beaches, it’s because the state is a veritable desert. The landscape shimmers with the golden straw grass of drought. In fact, California is currently bracing for its sixth straight year of drought. But there may just be some reason for optimism.

Fall rains have given some of the state relief. Northern California has benefited from these rains allowing up to 25% of the state to crawl out of the drought classification. But the news is not so cheerful for the rest of the state.

Central and Southern California remain in a constant state of exceptional or extreme drought. Nearly 43% of the state has been classified in “exceptional or extreme drought” for at least the last three months.

But the overall picture of the state doesn’t tell the whole story. Central California is known for a booming agricultural economy. The vast majority of the world’s almonds are cultivated in central California. And as Central and Southern California sink deeper into drought, it puts more strains on the northern part of the state. This is because the crops of Central and Southern California need to be irrigated so the water must come down from the north.

The state of California will not allow the agricultural industry of Central and Southern California to wither and die. Politicians in the state will go to extreme lengths in order to keep the Central Valley irrigated, even at the cost of those living in non-drought areas.

The State Water Resources Control Board deems October 1st the start of the water year. The control board uses precipitation levels and also soil moisture to assess drought conditions. But the state will not know if it can avoid a sixth straight year of drought until the middle of December.

Much of what eases California’s drought is the Sierra Nevada snowpack high above and to the east of the Central Valley and Southern California. The snowpack then melts throughout the spring, trickling moisture down into the soils, rivers and lakes of the state. And while fall rains may have eased drought conditions in some parts of the state, we will not know the true extent of what’s to come until the snowpack can be measured in December.

And even if snowpack measurements are positive, it will be a long time before any significant positive impact takes place in California. That water needs to trickle down the mountains, through rocks and a completely changed terrain. California has lost tens of millions of trees in the past five years of drought which could completely change the way the water trickles down from the mountains.