California drought to make summer months more difficult

Sunny skies and spring-like temperatures may have many Southern Californians in good spirits this month but officials are warning that a lack of rain is posing a serious problem that may become even direr by the time summer rolls around.

This winter marks the third year that precipitation levels have been noticeably low and data suggests that this year could be the driest California has experienced in over four decades.

Governor Jerry Brown recently declared a state of emergency and encouraged people to reduce their water usage by approximately 20 percent.

The unfortunate side effects of the unusually dry weather can be seen as firefighters scramble to put out various blazes along roadsides and other areas.

Much of the fires have been started in brush which has dried as a result of the low precipitation, leaving individuals like Justin McGough, a fire battalion chief at Hemet Ryan Air Attack Base, feeling as though the 2013 fire season never really ended.

“While there is some green grass out there, the amount of dead vegetation and lower fuel moistures in some vegetation is typical of what we see in August, September and October,” McGough said. “And we’re seeing that right now in our winter, which should be our wet season.”

McGough said that individuals in the area need to bear in mind that safety precautions should be taken this season because of the larger quantity of dry brush.

The fire battalion chief suggested that individuals looking to mow their lawns and engage in similar activities should do so only in the early morning hours or postpone such activities altogether until periods of high fire danger subside.

Recreational shooting and off-roading are two other ways fires may unintentionally get started, according to McGough. He suggested that in order to mitigate the chance of fire when engaging in these recreational activities, individuals should use common sense thinking.

Vehicles such as motorcycles should not be laid on their side in areas laden with dry grasses and other forms of brush because their hot mufflers can spark a fire, and activities like shooting at outdoor ranges should generally be postponed in times when fire danger is extremely high, he said.

McGough also encouraged area residents to visit, a website created by CalFire that suggests a three step “ready, set, go!” plan for preparing for a wildfire.

The Fire Batallion chief reminded area residents to be careful with their water usage during this difficult dry season, something Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority General Manager Celeste Cantu agrees is important.

Cantu said the drought will bring some rough months ahead and may impact food production because there won’t be the kind of water necessary to grow crops in certain areas.

“We are going to be seeing fields fallowed, which means they’re not going to be able to plant plants that are seasonal crops and we are going to see permanent crops, like tree crops, stressed,” she said. “(With tree crops) farmers may be faced with a situation where they can give enough water to keep their trees alive, but not enough water for their trees to be productive.”

Many experts have predicted that this decrease in crop production is set to raise food prices throughout the country, as California’s agricultural industry is one of the biggest in the nation.

Cantu said the effects of the drought will be felt in many other ways than a smaller crop production. California’s natural ecology will also be affected.

Streams, creeks and other bodies of water will experience higher salinity and a greater number of chemicals because a lack of rain means that bodies of water will not be refreshed, she said.

With all the ways that water is being wasted, Cantu said one way individuals can help is by being careful not to overwater grass and also to make sure that their landscape has some less water intensive plants that can handle the pressure of a drought.

“We can handle our drought situation by landscaping these beautiful yards, but using a slightly different scheme,” she said. “Instead of expanses of green grass, have flowering bushes, plants, trees, roses – you name it. It’ll be just as beautiful but it will take a fraction of the water.”

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