California is not out of the fire yet

This May 18, 2015 file photo shows irrigation pipes along a dry irrigation canal on a field near Stockton, Calif. On Friday, April 7, 2017, California Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to the state's water emergency following a five-year drought that reduced rivers to trickles, farmland to dust fields and forests to swathes of dead trees. (Rich Pedroncelli, File/AP)

After months of bad news, something good has finally happened. On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown announced one of the worst droughts in California’s history was over. The end came after months of heavy rainfall and melting snow lead to the replenishing of reservoirs that started to dry up in 2011.

The drought severely hurt the state’s infrastructure, destroyed the agriculture industry and drew lines between those who had access to water and those who did not. The state’s effort to fix the drought status should be applauded by both climate scientists and Californians alike; however, the damage done is nowhere near fixed.

What would eventually become one of the worst droughts in California history started innocently enough in late 2011. That year, particularly warm weather started to dry up the reservoirs around the state especially in the northern and southern regions. Efforts urging residents to conserve water fell on deaf ears and by April of 2012, almost the entire state was experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions. Restrictions on water use by the state helped curb the problem and by the beginning of 2013, things were actually starting to improve with entire areas once again returning to problem free.

However, 2013 and 2014 saw the return and increase in intensity of drought conditions. From mid-2014 to mid-2016 almost two-thirds of the state was facing exceptional drought conditions. After numerous government restrictions and massive changes in weather, conditions have been gradually improving.

While global warming can be partially blamed for the damage done in California, it was not the sole reason California sunk into a drought. Global warming and climate change have been issues affecting the world for a long time. 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have been recorded since 2000. It would appear normal that an already warm state like California would at some point reach dry conditions.

Instead the blame for extremely severe drought conditions falls solely on California’s citizens. Most of the state was already being hit hard before the government imposed severe drought conditions. California has one the largest agriculture sectors within the entire country. The increasingly severe drought conditions were already hurting farms from getting the water needed to grow crops and keep up with demand. Entire stretches of farmland where completely dried up and destroyed, costing the industry billions. Over 100 million trees were destroyed due to drought weather. The state was literally catching on fire to due to warm, dry weather.

You would think during all of this, the average person would want to do everything they could in order to help their state. After all, if California is suffering then its people are suffering. Clearly that wasn’t the case or I wouldn’t be writing this column. While a lot of the state cut back on water usage, big cities and more upper-class cities did not. People were unwilling to change their lifestyles in order to help their fellow statesmen.

A desire to keep up a wealthy lifestyle and, more importantly, appearance is what dragged Californians into the drought. Having pool parties and taking aggressively long showers was more important than making sure the state was not burning down. A lawn looking green and fresh was more important than lower income Americans who didn’t have access to drinking water. There is nothing wrong with being wealthy; there is only a problem if you let it hurt other people in your ignorance.

California experienced an extreme drought because people were unwilling to change. 2016 was the hottest year on record and you can bet 2017 is going to be right up there with it. It took drastic environmental damage for Californians to realize they might have to curb their habits to save their state and they still barely did. California isn’t out of the fire yet. If they want to make it there then Californians need to seriously adapt new habits or else their world will literally be in flames.


Amar Batra is a senior staff photographer and opinion’s staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email amar.batra@uconn.edu. He tweets at @amar_batra19.