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Happy New Water Year.

Just like calendar years and fiscal years, we in the U.S. have this thing called a water year.

It's the 12-month timeframe that the U.S. Geological Survey uses to report on surface-water supply.

The year that ended Tuesday was one of the driest on record for California. As of Sept. 1, our major reservoirs held only a little over half of what is usual for this time of year. In context, water reserves during the state’s severe 1977 drought were lower, but our population was smaller by millions.

As we begin the new water year, let's take a look at what we can expect.

More conservation

We already know those new mandatory water restrictions are in effect – the ones that gave us more “water cops” and have our own neighbors policing our usage. In addition, the state and federal government have banded together to drastically reduce water deliveries to Central Valley farms – farms that help California produce half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables. And on top of that, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that would regulate groundwater for the first time. This was spurred by the drilling frenzy to scoop up groundwater, overtaxing the earth so much that it’s sinking in some places in the Central Valley.

Keep an eye on what you eat


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So far, we haven’t seen a rise in food prices as a result of the drought, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But with less and less water, it’s something to watch.

For example, it takes 1.1 gallons of water to produce a single almond, according to Mother Jones. Will the drought affect the furious pace we’re farming these popular nuts?

As for fish, our hot and dry summer caused the waters of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to become too warm for gill-bearing creatures like trout and salmon to survive. You might find that your meal is a bit younger and smaller than usual.

Another California crop is also feeling the impact. Much of the water that marijuana growers use is diverted from creeks and streams that are starting to run dry.

“With less water, farmers will have to make choices on crops like, ‘I’m only going to water these trees’ – the price will go up as demand goes up and supply goes down,” says Dale Sky Jones, Oaksterdam University’s executive chancellor. Oaksterdam is a trade school in Oakland, California, that specializes in medical marijuana industry training.

More wildfires worries

Dry foliage and fire fuel each other in frighteningly fast and intense ways. So with the state set to face its fourth dry winter, the risk of wildfires is way up and our already long fire season may grow even longer. As of Sept. 27, the total number of wildfires recorded is at 5,059. Compared with the same period last year, that’s an increase of 739 wildfires, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

So unless we see enough major storms to end the record drought this winter, we can expect to worry about wildfires. On the bright side, that doesn’t necessarily mean that more acres will burn.

A longing for El Niño

El Niño is like Santa, but instead of presents, it sometimes gifts wet winters to California. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration now puts the odds of El Niño emerging in fall and early winter at 65 percent, but it’s looking weak.

During a strong El Niño – an annual warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean – changes in the water’s temperature affect tropical rainfall and therefore weather patterns around the world. Historically, a moderate or strong El Niño generally spurs wetter-than-average conditions in parts of California.

However, The Weather Channel warns us not to hang all our rainy day hopes on El Niño:

“The strength of the El Niño can play a role in the outcome. In addition, heavy rainfall can occur with or without El Niño present and that was the case in the winter preceding the strong 1997-1998 El Niño.”

In conclusion, the weather remains unpredictable.

Got tips on conservation or tricks to alleviate the problems above? Reach out to Chan at jchan@cironline.org or on Twitter: @juliachanb.

 

Julia B. Chan worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until June, 2017. Julia B. Chan is a producer and the digital editor for Reveal's national public radio program. She’s the voice of Reveal online and manages the production and curation of digital story assets that are sent to more than 200 stations across the country. Previously, Chan helped The Center for Investigative Reporting launch YouTube’s first investigative news channel, The I Files, and led engagement strategies – online and off – for multimedia projects. She oversaw communications, worked to better connect CIR’s work with a bigger audience and developed creative content and collaborations to garner conversation and impact.

Before joining CIR, Chan worked as a Web editor and reporter at the San Francisco Examiner. She managed the newspaper’s digital strategy and orchestrated its first foray into social media and online engagement. A rare San Francisco native, she studied broadcasting at San Francisco State University, focusing on audio production and recording. Chan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.