November 18, 2021

UCR experts weigh drought's long-term impacts

Researchers consider implications for the Central Valley, and for health

Author: UCR News
November 18, 2021

Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency for the entire state of California this past month. The period from Oct. 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021 was the second-driest year on record in California. Almost 90% of the state is in throes of extreme drought. Reservoir storage is 60% of average. Said one state water official: "It's almost beyond comprehension." We asked UCR experts what the future holds if drought conditions persist.

Hoori Ajami, groundwater hydrologist 

Q: What will happen to the Central Valley, in terms of groundwater and sinkholes, if farmers continue to grow highly water intensive crops? 

A: If farmers continue to pump groundwater at the current rate and do not implement any conservation measures such as managed aquifer recharge, the land subsidence issues become worse. The groundwater levels will drop so far it will not be economically feasible to pump groundwater anymore. The Central Valley aquifer system is already amongst the top three highly depleted aquifer systems in the country. Therefore, improving water resource management based on comprehensive monitoring and water supply forecasting system is needed to maintain a diverse portfolio of crops in the region. 

Dr. Rajesh Gulati, associate dean of graduate medical education 

Q: What are the health implications of drought? 

A: Effects of drought can be short term which can be easily defined but some of the long-term effects that affect the health of the population are only known later. Drought directly affects agriculture but it also impacts the environment, economy and health. When drought affects a particular area, it impacts the economy in that area by affecting the financial infrastructure which causes people to move to areas not affected by drought. Drought can also cause poor sanitation facilities thereby increasing the risk of illnesses, some of which may cause fatalities. More information about drought and health. 

Q: How do we address health implications of drought? 

A: Doctors can educate their patients about how to avoid certain viral (West Nile virus) and fungal (Valley fever) illnesses that are related to drought. Mental health can also be affected by drought. The threat to lives and property from wildfires can be another cause of distress. Climate change, drought, and health are linked, and it is important to be informed about how they are linked. 

Compiled by Jules Bernstein and Iqbal Pittalwala

Media Contacts