As lawmakers in Sacramento consider how to provide an adequate water supply for California in the coming decades, at a little-publicized state water summit this week scientists painted a bleak picture of a Western landscape devoid of forests, snow pack and surface water unless the world quickly reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
The state is likely to become drier even if emissions are capped because levels of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere will continue to warm the Earth for decades to come, said Norm Miller, University of California, Berkeley, Water Center associate director.
Under an intensive fossil fuel future examined by the panel, modeling shows that the Sierra snow pack likely would contain only 11 to 27 percent of the water to which Californians are accustomed, according to Miller who worked on the recent reports. Sea levels would rise between one and three feet, creating seawater intrusion into coastal freshwater aquifers and turning now freshwater areas of the San Francisco Bay Delta into brackish waterways.
When storms do precipitate over the Sierra, they would bring more rain and less snow making the state’s rivers flood prone. Miller said that today’s 100-year flood is likely to occur as frequently as one out of ten years, or even one out of two years, by the end of the century under an intense fossil fuel future scenario.
This lack of snow pack and resulting surface water would force the San Joaquin Valley to pump more groundwater, causing aquifers there to fall by at least 200 feet in the decades ahead.
This is making the Life Belt (our term for the Great Lakes States) to look even better.