Quick: pop quiz: is California currently in a state of drought?
If you answered “no,” then you’re right. As of April, the drought emergency that mired the state was over, and even before the official proclamation many news organizations had already declared an end. And yes, that was three different links.
If you answered “yes,” that we’re still in a drought, you’re also right. The California Drought Monitor still lists about 8% of the state in a drought, has done so pretty consistently for most of the calendar year.
So which is it?
First, let’s begin with every pedant’s favorite tool: a definition. And for climate debates, we’re not going to go with your standard dictionary definition, but instead, look at the National Oceans and Atmospheric Association’s definition: drought is a shortage of water that is evident, impacts agricultural crops, and impacts communities that rely on that water.
Pretty vague, right? And that also explains why we get so much conflicting information about whether or not California is in a state of drought. Our reservoirs and lakes are in many cases still low, and many communities still suffer from water shortages. So in the midst of engorged rivers and flooding, we can still somewhat meet the definition of a drought-stricken state.
Drought or not, we need to think seriously about California’s water future. A growing population will soon exceed what we can provide in all but the years of most plentiful rainfall. And worst of all, with climate change an ever looming threat, we can anticipate less rainfall and more evaporation that will exacerbate these shortages.