- A typical summer's day in Los Angeles: temperatures
nudge the nineties, the sun blazes high in the sky, palm trees sway in
the ocean breeze, and sprinklers spray a fine mist of water into the scorching
- But if the predictions of climatologists, environmentalists,
city planners and the head of the water board are correct, the sprinklers
and many other of the comforts that have made southern California habitable
may have to be turned off.
- Experts across the city concur that the conditions are
ripe in southern California for the "perfect drought". Los Angeles
has recorded just 8.15cm (3.21in ) of rain in the year ending June 30,
making it the driest year on record since 1877. According to the National
Drought Mitigation Centre, southern California faces "extreme drought"
this year, with no rain forecast before September. One climatologist referred
to the temperatures in Los Angeles as "Death Valley numbers".
- The Sierra Nevada mountains, which typically provide
Los Angeles with 50% of its water, have provided just 20% of their normal
volume this year, and the snowpack is at its lowest for 20 years. Pumping
from an aquifer in the San Fernando Valley was stopped this month because
it was contaminated with chromium 6.
- While the waters dry up, demand for the scarce resource
increases. Not only has southern California seen a growth in its population
of two-to-four times the national average in the past 50 years, but neighbouring
states such as Nevada and Arizona are also experiencing population booms.
And they all claim water from the same source, the Colorado River.
- "I call it the dry incendiary summer of 2007,"
says Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena. "Mother nature is converging with human nature. With
population growth and the decline in the water there are the elements in
the equation which you could call the perfect drought."
- Although southern California has experienced severe drought
before, this time could be different. Climate change, some argue, means
that the lack of rainfall and the elevated temperatures will become the
norm. "Nature never intended to support this many people here,"
said David Nahai, president of the board of the city's water and power
commissioners. "If we have two years like we have now then we will
have to take some drastic measures. But we're not pushing the panic button."
- Just what those drastic measures may entail will be familiar
to those in more temperate climates, such as the UK: mandatory hosepipe
bans, restrictions on car washing - a twice-weekly activity for many Angelenos
- and planning measures to force developers to consider water use. "It's
disgusting that Los Angeles parks and golf courses are being irrigated
with potable water," says Nahai. "We have to re-educate people
about living here."
- Melanie Winter, of the LA-based River Project, says that
land use and 20th century flood controls - LA's storm drains to channel
the rain into the sea - need to be changed to make the city more self-sufficient
and less dependent on water travelling hundreds of miles through pipelines
- "We spend $1bn to import water and $500,000 to throw
local [rain] water into the ocean," she said. "In 30 years we
may be able to provide 65% of our drinking water locally rather than 15%."
- There may, however, be an upside, Patzert suggests. "The
last 10 years we've had bumper grape harvests. Two buck Chuck [a local,
palatable cheap plonk] is the result of global and regional heat-up."