California should expect a ‘fourth dry year’ as drought persists throughout the West
California is the most water-scarce state in the nation and is the nation’s leading water user. It could lose another 25,000 acre-feet of water from the San Francisco Bay watershed in the year ahead because a growing number of rivers are not flowing — in part because of the severe drought that is gripping much of the West.
The state is not suffering, though. Its water supply is the cleanest in the nation, from the high water table in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the deep underground aquifers beneath Southern California, which supply the Los Angeles-Long Beach, Ventura-Santa Barbara, and San Diego-Coronado harbors.
California is also experiencing one of the highest growth rates in the nation, according to the Pacific Institute’s California Water Intelligence Center. The state’s projected water supply in the next 20 years will be about a foot less than it is now.
There’s only so much water in the state and the rivers are getting short of it. The result of all this is a “fourth dry year” in California, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, which has been tracking weather in the state. It predicts that drought will continue.
“That’s a strong signal that a fourth dry year is possible,” says Jason Anderson, a meteorologist with the Pacific Institute whose website is dedicated to data and statistics on water and environmental issues. A fourth dry year is defined as a year that’s not drier than the previous year.
There are some things California can expect from the third dry year. “With this dry spell, there is less water on the river to be soaked up by the delta,” Anderson says. “Some of that water has been used in other years that came before. The delta is in a very productive state. It’s filling up at a rate that it will take 20 years to catch up to where the water was five years ago.”
If water does not get to the delta, the water table in San Francisco will fall below the water level at which San Francisco’s water supply stops moving, Anderson says.
Even though the water in the Bay Delta has been “pretty consistent,” Anderson says there are a number of problems that will require a substantial amount of water to fix: vegetation is growing at a rate that will not allow the delta to fill up with water; sediment is building up on the