How Climate Change Will Affect California Water

Climate change will impact California’s water supply. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) released a whitepaper in 2008 which listed the impacts the state’s water supply will face. The impacts included: reduced snowpack, drought, floods, water quality, sea level rise, and hydroelectric generation.

Reduced snowpack. Experts project there will be a reduction in the Sierra Nevada snowpack. The DWR whitepaper calls it “California’s largest surface reservoir.” Currently, snowmelt provides an annual average of 15 million acre feet of water which is released between April and July every year. The whitepaper states that “much of the state’s water infrastructure was designed to capture the slow spring runoff and deliver it during the drier summer and fall months.” The DWR projects that the snowpack will experience a 25 to 40 percent reduction from the historic average by 2050.

Drought. A rise in temperatures coupled with rainfall and runoff patterns changes “will exacerbate the frequency and intensity of droughts.” Regions relying on surface water (streams, rivers, and lakes) “could be particularly affected” which would increase the demand on groundwater. Drier soils and more forest fires result from drought. In addition, warmer temperatures are likely to increase evapotranspiration rates which would extend growing seasons and increase the amount of irrigation needed for many crops, urban landscaping and environmental water needs.

Floods. There is a potential for more floods for two reasons: 1. Greater storm intensity is projected by scientists, 2. Watershed vegetation and soil moisture conditions changes are likely to change runoff and recharge patterns.  

Water quality affected. Water quality may be affected by changes in the timing of river flows and warming atmospheric temperatures. Flood peaks may cause increased erosion which would result in “turbidity and concentrated pulses of pollutants.” The integrity of water works infrastructure may be threatened by flooding.

Sea level rise. Sea levels are rising and are expected to continue to do so. Peer-reviewed studies estimated sea level to rise between seven to 55 inches by 2100 along the California coast. A seven-inch rise would increase flooding along the California coast, and could also cause “catastrophic levee failures in the Delta.” An increase in seawater penetration in the Delta would degrade drinking and agricultural water quality.

Reduced reliability of hydroelectricity operations. The reliability of the state’s hydroelectricity operations will be reduced by climate change. The largest source of clean energy in California is hydroelectricity. Changes in the timing of inflows to reservoirs may be greater than generation capacity which would force water releases over spillways and “result in lost opportunities to generate horsepower.” During summer months, decreased snowpack, earlier melting and higher snow elevations may result in less water available for generation.

Water conservation and efficiency is needed

The Pacific Institute issued reports on urban and agricultural water efficiency, and the findings of the reports have been adopted by the DWR in the California Water Plan. One of the findings is that conservation and efficiency can save one million acre feet of water quickly, and six to eight million acre feet by 2020.

“Improving the efficiency of our water use is the cheapest, easiest, fastest, and least destructive way to meet California’s current and future water supply needs,” said Dr. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute and one of the world’s leading authorities on water.

“There is no ‘silver bullet’ solution to California’s water problems,” said Gleick. “Everyone involved in state water debates will acknowledge the need for diverse answers or a ‘portfolio’ of solutions – but current proposals for meeting water challenges are inadequate and largely misdirected.”


LMj Sunshine

Interesting, thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Interesting, thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Interesting, thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Interesting, thank you.

Loesje vB
Loesje Najoan3 years ago

The mother nature needs solutions.

Beng Kiat Low
low beng kiat6 years ago


Daniel M.
Past Member 6 years ago

Planting only 6 percent of the continental United States with biomass crops such as hemp would supply all current domestic demands for oil and gas.
Did you know the average American spends 33 of 40 working hours to support their need for energy? It's true; 80 percent of the total monetary living expense for everything we do is ultimately wrapped up in energy costs; from the energy it takes to make the food we eat, to fuel for the cars we drive, to the manufacturing, storage and transportation of the products we buy. And 80 percent of solid and airborne pollution in our environment can be blamed on fossil energy sources. It is estimated that America has already exhausted 80 percent of its fossil fuel reserves.
Industrial hemp is the number one biomass producer on earth, meaning an actual contender for an economically competitive, clean burning fuel. Hemp has four times the biomass and cellulose potential and eight times the methanol potential of its closest competing crop - corn. Burning coal and oil are the greatest sources of acid rain; biomass fuels burn clean and contain no sulphur and produce no ash during combustion. The cycle of growing and burning biomass crops keeps the world s carbon dioxide level at perfect equilibrium, which means that we are less likely to experience the global climactic changes (greenhouse effect) brought about by excess carbon dioxide and water vapors after burning fossil fuels.


Heinz K.
.6 years ago

I N D E P E N D E N T Scientist Hans Von Storch on Sustainability of Climate Science
Veritas vos liberabit

Shannon Wright
Shannon Wright6 years ago

interesting article!

Michelle M.
Michelle M.6 years ago

Californians waste huge amounts of water maintaining lawns! Lawns should be gradually phased out and replaced with more environmentally friendly plants. Perhaps tax credits should go to people who remove their lawns and replant with xeno landscaping. However those who replace lawns with cement, which ups ambient air temperatures, should be penalized. And LA needs to be rationed when there are droughts!