California's Drought Foreshadows Lasting Change in Climate System

You don't have to search far to find evidence of the drought.

Californians are looking out their windows and seeing dry lakes, dead grass, and empty reservoirs. Towns are restricting water use. Some have less than 100 days of water left. The environmental and personal effects of our current drought are everywhere.

2013 was the driest year in California in the 119 years that records have been kept. This is the third consecutive year of drought in California. Reservoir levels are already about 20 percent below their historical average. The snowpack stands at just 12 percent of normal levels for this point in the winter season. CAL FIRE has responded to 400 fires across the state, compared with none this time last year. This is truly a crisis.

Climate scientists are finding evidence that human-made climate change is playing a factor in our drought, as warmer temperatures increase the rate of evaporation of water that is available in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. More precipitation in the mountains will be in the form of rain, not snow. When rain falls, it will be in more intense bursts, often causing flooding and running off before it has a chance to soak into the land and ease the drought.

The short-term solutions include conserving water before it is gone, recycling wastewater, and increasing storage where it makes sense. Smart, innovative and creative solutions, which California is known for, are the only way that we will be able to move through this continuing drought with minimal long-term repercussions for our health, environment, wildlife, and property.

Congress recently tried to legislate its way out of a drought by passing the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act. I voted against this, because it is full of false promises to deliver water that simply isn't there. This bill would harm the quality of water for people and businesses across Northern California, and repeals important environmental protections already in place. This is no way to fix a crisis, when the real issue is the lack of rain and snow due to our changing climate.

What is the long-term solution? We need to focus on building efficient infrastructure that will promote resilience to get us through the drought. We must also address human made climate change. Now.

This year, I joined the Safe Climate Caucus to ensure that climate change, and its very real consequences, is being discussed in the House of Representatives. I believe that the most momentous threat to our global environment is climate change. Human output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases has reached an unprecedented level.

I will continue to support legislation that enables our shift away from fossil fuels to a green energy economy. This is why I cosponsored the End Polluter Welfare Act of 2013, which would end federal tax cuts for the fossil fuel industry; and the Grants for Renewable Energy Education for the Nation (GREEN) Act, which provides funding to train students to develop, operate, and maintain clean-energy infrastructure. As an active member of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition (SEEC) in Congress, I will continue to advance policies that promote clean energy technology innovation and the development of renewable energy resources.

This drought does not just hurt California. The Golden State produces nearly half of all U.S. grown fruit, nuts, and vegetables, and it is the leading dairy state in the country. Farmers face uncertainties in the water supply to grow their crops and raise their livestock. The future of this $44.7 billion industry is facing a real crisis. Food costs could increase significantly across the country if crops suffer, and this could be a glimpse of the future of food security as our climate continues to change.

Meteorologists predict that 2014 will continue to be drier than normal. Some scientists are predicting that the West will never return to the relatively wet conditions we enjoyed between 1977 and 1999. There is no questioning the level of the problem. We need to focus on taking the short-term, and long-term, steps to begin to mitigate extreme drought in California.

This post is part of a series from the Safe Climate Caucus. The Caucus is comprised of 37 members of the House of Representatives who have committed to ending the conspiracy of silence in Congress about the dangers of climate change. For more information, visit the Safe Climate Caucus website and like the Safe Climate Caucus on Facebook.