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How the Current National Drought Affects You

As a Chicago resident, you’re lucky enough to be out of the major drought areas in the United States. You may even think the drought doesn’t have a lot of impact on your life. You feel sorry for California residents who have to deal with water rationing, but not too bad since the state’s had downright pleasant weather throughout the last year.

But this historic drought period has the potential to affect the entire nation, and not just in general terms. This historic drought may directly affect you. Here’s how.

The Situation

California’s drought no longer counts as news. What you may not know, though, is the drought’s scale. California’s current drought built for several years before gaining the national attention it has now. According to paleoclimatologists at the University of California at Berkley, 2014 came close to breaking records. In the last 500 years, California has only had three years as dry as 2014.

And, while California exhibits the direst drought, it’s far from the only state suffering. The United States drought monitor categorizes dryness on the following scale:

  • Abnormally dry
  • Moderate drought
  • Severe drought
  • Extreme drought
  • Exceptional drought

In addition to California (where nearly the entire state qualifies for exceptional drought), the US Department of Agriculture officially labeled 11 other states disaster areas. Throughout the country, pieces of most states fall under moderate to exceptional drought. While experts consider many of these dry spells short-term, the West, Southwest, North, and Northeast exhibit longterm droughts lasting six months or longer.

To get an idea of the gravity of the current drought scenario, consider the amount of rainfall needed to break the drought. In the Southwest, most areas only need 4.01 to 8.00 inches. But in California and along the West Coast, states would need to experience 24.01 to 49.92 inches of precipitation to end drought conditions.

The Potential Impact

While the drought certainly sounds scary, it may prove difficult to understand how it impacts states with adequate rainfall. Here are some of the most pressing potential side effects of long-term national drought:

  • Economic Risks: Drought often results in lost jobs, in every industry from retail to real estate. Economists estimate a potential $1.5 billion loss in wages and salaries.
  • Food Shortages: California accounts for huge percentages of produce sold in the United States. When crops suffer from lack of water, these foods become less available. For scale, consider these percentages: California grows 99% of the country’s walnuts and almonds, 98% of pistachios, 95% of broccoli, 92% of strawberries, 91% of grapes, 90% of tomatoes, and 74% of lettuce.
  • Increased Risk of Earthquakes: To compensate for the lack of precipitation, California has drilled in several areas to access groundwater directly. However, large amounts of drilling results in sinking and destabilization. The Central Valley subsided more than two feet between 2008 and 2011 because of groundwater drilling.
  • Increased Risk of Wildfires: Wildfires easily spread, without regard for state lines. Even if a wildfire never reaches your state, you may experience decreased air quality due to transferred smoke. In 2014, California had 3,400 wildfires before June 19th.
  • Inflated Food Prices: Before foods become unavailable, they first become rare. This means prices for the produce listed
  • above skyrocket (as you may see on any trip to a neighborhood grocer). The high cost helps counterbalance the expense of agricultural water. And California needs a lot of it. To grow a single walnut, a tree needs 4.9 gallons of water. A single head of broccoli requires 5.4 gallons. This drought also raises the price of beef, since California grows much of the feed for the nation’s livestock.

Want to do your part to help assuage the drought? Conserve water in your own home and reduce the amount of California food products your family consumes.

For ideas on at-home conservation, read our other blog posts.

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