May 2015

California’s Drought Leads to Water Restrictions

Almaden Reservoir near San Jose, CaliforniaAlmaden Reservoir near San Jose, California

Almaden Reservoir near San Jose, California
As the Almaden Reservoir near San Jose dried up from the drought, the remains of an automobile were revealed.

California is drying up. The state is suffering from a severe drought—a long period of low rainfall. Because of the drought, California has less water stored in its lakes, rivers, and groundwater for people to use. In response, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, has ordered mandatory, or required, water restrictions for the first time in the state’s history. Communities across California will have to cut their water use by about 25 percent.

According to many experts, California’s four-year drought is historic. For example, California just had the driest January in its history, and January is usually California’s wettest month. The city of San Francisco received no rainfall at all in January for the first time since record keeping began. In the Sierra Nevada mountains, low rain and snowfall totals have caused reservoirs to drop to record low levels. One example is Folsom Lake, a reservoir that supplies water to Sacramento, California’s capital city. In 2014, Folsom Lake lost so much water it nearly dropped to “dead pool” level. That is the level at which water would no longer be able to reach the city through channels and spillways. Conditions could get even worse. According to recent estimates, California has only a one-year supply of water stored in its reservoirs.

There are many different ways that California’s communities can cut back on their water use. For example, they can require large water users, such as golf courses, to use less. Communities can restrict water use on individual households by limiting when people can water their lawns or wash their cars. Another way to conserve water is to make it easier for citizens to replace old appliances with newer ones that use less water. Replacing old toilets and washing machines, for example, can save a lot of water. Finally, if such measures aren’t enough, communities can impose fines on water wasters. Governor Brown has recommended fines of up to $10,000 for those who waste the most water. Cutting back on water use will be critical as California continues to “weather” one of the most severe droughts in its history.

Image credit: ©REUTERS/Robert Galbraith
Question 1
By about what percent do California’s communities have to cut their water use?

Question 2
Which of the following is one way that communities can save water?

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