What’s to come in California if the drought persists?

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A new study says the state’s economy would probably hold up pretty well, including agriculture. But it finds that continued dry winters could prove devastating for small, rural communities that depend on well water, for the state’s wetlands and for wildlife in general.

The study by the Public Policy Institute of California says the state’s urban areas – home to 95 percent of the population – are in pretty good shape. That’s thanks to diversification of water sources and years of investments in water conservation. Agricultural regions are more vulnerable, but they’ve also been adapting in recent years.drought-salmon

The real danger, the report says, is for low-income rural communities and the environment. If the drought continues, emergency deliveries would be needed to get water to rural residents, to prevent major losses of water birds and extinctions of many fish species, including salmon.

The study follows a new report by the Jet Propulsion Lab that shows land in the San Joaquin Valley is sinking at an accelerating rate because of unrestrained pumping.

“Subsidence” as the phenomenon is known is not new in California. But the report says it’s happening much faster. And that puts bridges, roads and other structures at risk. The NASA report says land in some areas near the California Aqueduct have sunk more than 12-inches since the drought started – eight of those inches in a four month period last year.

drought-treesYet another new study tries to quantify how much impact climate change is having on the current four-year drought. The range attributed to human behavior falls between 8 and 27 percent. The study, by researchers at Colombia University and the University of Idaho, says that drought would probably be between 15 and 20 percent less severe if not for heat-trapping greenhouse gases, which are causing global temperatures to rise.

The report paints a grim picture, with temperatures in the state continuing to increase over the next few decades and drought conditions becoming the norm.