Are we facing a megadrought?

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Some government buildings, like this CalPERS one in Sacramento, have stopped watering their lawns. Photo via Flickr/ CC/ Kevin Cortopassi

California is three years into what some are saying could become a megadrought, a dry spell lasting several decades.

The drought is so dire that a certain golf course in the Montecito area is shipping in nearly $90,000 of water per month for its grass, and one-third of the town itself is shipping in bottled water. Meanwhile, those living in towns like the working-class, farm community of Porterville, California are having issues simply hydrating themselves.

“They turn on the faucet, and there’s nothing coming out,” Elva Beltran of the Porterville-area Coordinating Council told Which Way, LA?. “These mothers cannot raise their children. They cannot cook for them. They cannot wash their clothes.”

Asked if she had seen anything like this before, Beltran continued, “Oh, no, not at all. I’ve been here for over 50 years, and I’ve got families moving out of here with perfectly good houses but no water.”

Porterville certainly isn’t the only town feeling the effects of what looks to be an unprecedented lack of rain. Nearly five percent of all farm jobs in the state (approximately 20,000) could be lost just this year due to the drought. That number does not include jobs associated with farming that include processing and packaging, trucking, real estate and more.

Here in Los Angeles, where residents can still turn on the tap, environmental consciousness is pretty high. In fact, LA actually has the lowest water consumption level per capita among U.S. urban areas with populations over 1 million people. However, with the chances of a wet season due to El Nino slipping away this fall and winter, more conservation may be in order.

Incidents of residents receiving tickets for water usage are on the rise, and some experts are predicting increased fines and greater regulation (see LA’s Water Ordinance Fact Sheet). Along with this, voters will soon decide on Proposition 1 – a proposal to sell off $7.1 billion in bonds to fund various water-related programs.

Journalist Anne Louise Bardach told Which Way, LA? that a longer drought means tough ethical issues, particularly in regards to water ownership.  “If we don’t get a good El Nino, we could literally have private well owners perilously close to emptying out aquifers.”

A change in individual habits, and legislative involvement seem more necessary than ever, particularly when it comes to the longterm effects of climate change. Experts are predicting a 20-50 percent chance of a 35-year megadrought, conditions worsened by climate change.