Drought in California

California has a long history of drought and variable precipitation patterns. Recent years, however, have begun to reveal a trend of longer, drier droughts occurring more frequently. Because the San Diego region is heavily reliant on imported water to meet over 80 percent its freshwater demands, drought conditions pose a threat to San Diego’s water supply availability when they occur both locally and in the regions from which our water is imported, primarily the Colorado plateau and the Sierra Nevada. Changing climate and weather patterns throughout the Southwestern United States strongly influence our ability to achieve a reliable water supply – for human and environmental uses alike – without radically restructuring our relationship with water and the efficiency with which we use it.

Drought and Climate Change

As climate change impacts intensify, increasing temperatures and more frequent and severe droughts are expected to heighten already-intense competition for water resources in San Diego and across the Southwest. Warming temperatures, diminished rainfall, and reduced snowpack have been observed in recent decades in the Southwest, and that trend is predicted to continue and intensify. Climate change-exacerbated drought conditions directly impact the availability of water supplies and further exacerbate uncertainty about water availability in the near future. Models predict longer yearly dry seasons, shorter but more intense yearly wet seasons, more flash floods, and an increased likelihood of severe multi-year drought. Increasingly erratic, intermittent, and unpredictable rainfall patterns are likely to place a great strain on existing water capture and flood control infrastructure.

Rethinking Water

Periods of drought bring many challenges to Californians, yet drought conditions also serve as an opportunity to rethink our relationship with water. During drought, we are called to ask ourselves hard questions about how we are using and prioritizing this vital resource. San Diegans still have a long way to go in using water efficiently. There are districts in our region that use hundreds of gallons of water per person, per day. Outdoor, ornamental landscaping – often made from water-intensive non-native plants – drinks up about half the freshwater in our county. Using water efficiently reduces strain on drought-impacted water supplies, diminishes chances of polluted runoff, and reduces energy use. For more information on ways San Diego can re-frame its relationship with our most precious resource, read up on multi-benefit water solutions.