Register for Disaster by Drought

Background

California is currently experiencing significant challenges due to its human, economic, and natural vulnerability to drought.  On the human side, California is growing at approximately three percent per year, adding over one million new residents between 2010 and 2013.  At the same time, Californians are seeing a decline in their median income and a subsequent increase in the number of families in poverty (US Census 2014).  These trends create greater citizen and state vulnerability to potential disasters.  The growing population also puts pressure on existing and already scarce resources as well as the infrastructure that provides these resources.  In particular, water usage has increased during the drought, even while the state and non-governmental organizations have emphasized repeatedly that residents reduce water consumption (Thompson 2014).

California has also become the world’s breadbasket, building a thriving economy in the process.  However, much of this growth is in the agriculture sector, which utilizes 80 percent of the water per annum statewide for irrigation.  While this has not been a serious concern in the past, increasing agricultural outputs, especially those tied to the meat industry, have led to a greater demand on increasingly limited water supplies.  In addition, the University of California Center for Hydrological Modeling (2014) has found that less rain during drought forces farmers to pump more, decreasing groundwater reserves and creating future drought vulnerability (see also Famiglietti 2014).  The long-term ripple effects of drought on the state economy and individual livelihoods are still unknown and have yet to be fully investigated.

Additionally, the current drought in California is the most dramatic in the last 1,200 years (Griffin and Anchukaitis, 2014).  In fact the drought is so severe that the USDA (2014) estimates 99 percent of all farms in the state have been affected.  For the first time, the state has not provided water to certain agriculture areas, leaving farmers to question the sustainability of their livelihood (National Geographic 2014; IPCC AR5 Working Group II, 2014). Additionally, the drought, in conjunction with urban planning (or the lack thereof), has increased fire risk, which costs the state millions of dollars annually in massive damage to property and livelihoods.  Unfortunately, it appears the drought may be far from over. Paleoclimatologists, like Professor Lynn Ingram at UC Berkeley, believe this could be the start of a mega-drought, one that could last up to 200 years (Ingram and Malamud-Roam 2013).

This perfect storm of vulnerabilities will have a powerful impact on all aspects of life in California. Although scientific projections addressing the impact on agriculture, industry, land use, etc. are being publicized, important social ramifications have yet to be thoroughly discussed. Ultimately, the limits of water availability in California raise questions about values: how will we use, distribute and allocate our diminishing water supply among a growing population?  More specifically, if predicted agriculture losses and layoffs occur, how will this impact livelihoods?   California currently supports over 260,000 field laborers and their families (US BLS 2013).   In addition, how can the state create livelihood resilience for farmers and related industries?  In what ways will the vulnerable, especially the poor, disabled, and elderly, be at greater risk now and into the future as food costs increase and temperatures rise (Kostigen 2014; Worldand 2014)?  Will the predicted increase in social issues, including mental illness, lead to additional challenges such as increase in homelessness, crime, and suicide (Koopman, Meis, and
Corbett 2010: 2)? Finally how are we to prioritize the non-human users of water, such as ecosystems that are directly dependent on our shared water supplies? How can proper management of ecosystems improve water quantity and quality? In sum, looking through a livelihood resilience framework will provide new insight to how Californians can plan for and deal with the future social issues we are likely to face.

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