Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Allison Cronk makes this connection here…

Droughts are a severe issue in the hydrologic domain, as the water demands of humans and the environment must be sustained by the occurrence of precipitation. The article, “These 4 Things Need to Happen to End California’s Drought” aims to form a solution for the ongoing drought in California. It was reported by Brian Clark Howard in National Geographic on January 17, 2016. In summary, this article reflects on the recent El Nino driven weather patterns that have caused rain and snow in California. With this increase in precipitation, the question has been raised, “Will California see an end to the drought?” The solution is not quite that easy because California has seen diminishing reservoirs and water supplies for approximately four years now. The article presents a four-step solution that relies on the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. This solution requires four more months of snow, storms in the right place, below-freezing temperatures in the mountains, and time. California needs this snow in the mountains because much of the precipitation that occurs over the state flows into the sea rather than water supply systems. This will take time, as years of drought will not be recovered from a recent increase in precipitation. This idea is supported by Michael Casey (2015) who conveys that low-snowpack will force California into further drought and wildfires. His article also discusses more practical solutions such as desalination, wastewater reuse, or an extended pipeline, as the snowpack values cannot be controlled (Casey, 2015). Furthermore, the protection of the Sierra Nevada Forests and Meadows was emphasized by Brian Stranko (2014) when he states that those areas are “where 60 percent of our water typically comes from.” He looks for long-term solutions that relate to the Sierra snowpack and protection of the mountains and surrounding areas for California’s water supply (Stranko, 2014). Based on these supporting ideas, the statements in this article appear accurate. Some supplementary information, however, would be the steps we can take to increase and protect snowpack. It appears to be a favorable solution, but how can we rely on it if we cannot control it?

In the broader sense, water resources engineering has effects on environmental, societal, economic, and global levels because water must be utilized through hydrology and hydraulics to be distributed for a variety of uses. The environmental context refers to the protection of the natural world, the societal refers to human relationships, the economic indicates the movement of money within the system, and the global context refers to a worldwide scale. The drought in California resulting in a lack of snowpack is an issue in all of these areas. It impacts society by not allowing human water demands to be met. On the environmental end, droughts increase the risk of wildfires, and, on the economic side, agriculture, tourism, and other such features in California are not earning money and solutions can be costly. Moreover, it is a global issue because agricultural products from California cannot be shared with the rest of the world and an outside water source or solution may be required. These broader issues are supported by Mieszkowski (2014), as she discusses that farmers will lose billions of dollars in the attempt to provide water for their crops. This also causes an increase in food prices, thus having effects on a global scale. She also conveys the ideas that fish evacuations and wildfires are occurring, and people must conserve water in their homes (Mieszkowski, 2014). Therefore, she supports every context area related to the drought. The cause and effect relationships presented by this problem are as follows: California does not obtain enough water from the Sierra Nevada snowpack resulting in the inability of farms to produce food for people, people are not sustained, and food prices must rise. The rise in food prices affects the rest of the world, and the lack of water also causes wildfires and other issues that must be dealt with. Overall, resupplying the California reservoirs is crucial for various reasons, so the Sierra snowpack must be measured and other solutions must be sought if the hydrologic demands are not met.


Figure 1: A water supply system in California after several years of drought. Source: CBS News


Figure 2: The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range that holds snow that is a major source of California’s water supply. Source: National Geographic

URL: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/160107-california-drought-snowpack-el-nino-rains/


Casey, M. (April 22, 2015). Crazy and not-so-crazy ideas for solving the California drought.             CBSNEWS. Retrieved February 18, 2016 from: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/crazy-        and-not-so-crazy-ideas-for-solving-the-california-drought/

Howard, B.C. (January 17, 2016). These 4 things need to happen to end California’s drought.        National Geographic. Retrieved February 12, 2016 from:        http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/160107-california-drought-snowpack-el-         nino-rains/

Mieszkowski, K. (July 24, 2014). Why the California drought affects everyone. Reveal News.        Retrieved February 19, 2016 from: https://www.revealnews.org/article/why-the-          california-drought-affects-everyone/

Stranko, B. (2014). Drought: How to fix California’s water woes. The Nature Conservancy             California. Retrieved February 18, 2016 from: https://www.conserveca.org/our-      stories/all/2-blog/131-drought-how-to-fix-californias-water-woes