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The water authority promised to send its lobbyists to Sacramento to fight to prevent the judge's ruling from becoming permanent and urged everyone to reduce usage by 20 gallons per day.

If you ask guys who've put time into the big questions -- How come this is happening? And is it going to go on happening? -- their answers are fascinating in a scary sort of way.

"I call it the dry, incendiary summer of 2007," says William C. Patzert, a climatologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "Mother Nature is converging with human nature. With population growth and the decline in the water, there are the elements in the equation which you could call the perfect drought."

Patzert's known as "the water guy" at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Others call him "the blob guy" because he's the person who has been bringing us the satellite pictures of El Niño since the late '90s: the Pacific Ocean seen from above with orange and yellow blobs indicating the puddle of warm water drifting east from Indonesia, squishing against Peru, and oozing up to bug California.

Patzert bases his prophecies on what he calls PDOs, Pacific decadal oscillations. Pacific decadal oscillation theory, he says, gives us the big, long-term picture. "This is the stage on which El Niño and La Niña play, and it lasts for about 50 years," he says, "25 each. It's a pattern in the Pacific that goes from Asia to the Americas, and the Aleutians to Antarctica. When you look back at tree-ring records, for instance, these cycles -- El Niños, La Niñas, PDOs -- have been around for thousands of years. They're a natural part of our weather. Right now we're in what I call the negative phase of this Pacific decadal oscillation. When you look from the late 1940s to the mid-'70s, we tended to be a lot dryer then too. We had about 80 percent of our normal rainfall. Then we went into the '80s and the '90s, and they tended to be wetter than normal. So we got a little spoiled. So it's more like the 1950s to the '60s to the mid-'70s now. We checked 300 [measuring stations] around the state of California, and what we discovered is that in 50 years the average temperature has risen 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit, the snowpack arrives one week later, and it melts one week earlier than before."

Not only that, he says, but in that time the nation's population has doubled, California's has grown by a factor of four, and San Diego's has grown by a factor of six. "And right now, out there off California, a La Niña sits with cooler waters at the equator. That means one thing: another dry year for San Diego. I call her the Demon Diva of Drought."

The Dryest Two Years

on Record

"We have been thinking about what we're going to do for over a year now," says John Liarakos, the San Diego County Water Authority's spokesman. They have come up with a three-phase plan. "Right now we're in phase one of the drought plan, basically calling for increased voluntary water conservation. You probably heard about the 20-gallon challenge. Phase two is finding short-term additional sources of water: spot transfers, water purchases, that sort of thing. Phase three is mandatory reduction. And that's when we go to our member agencies, like the City of San Diego, and say, 'We can only give you X percent of what you need. Now you need to figure out what you're going to do.' Only the member agencies can actually put restrictions in place."

Liarakos says the water authority has stashed enough water for this year and next. On the other hand, he says, this is not a drought to trifle with. "The past two years have been the dryest since record-keeping started back in 1801, when Thomas Jefferson was president," he says. "The Sierra Nevada snow is at 30 percent, and the Colorado River is into the eighth year of its drought." In fiscal 2006, the water authority used 687,000 acre-feet to slake San Diego County's thirst. By 2030, we'll have a million more people, totaling around 3.8 million. And if you believe Sacramento will give back that water the judge just took away from Southlanders, think again.

Did You Know You Live on a Heat Island?

From the February 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

  • Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed preindustrial values.
  • The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 2005 (379 parts per million) exceeds by far the natural range of the last 650,000 years (180 to 300 ppm).
  • The amount of methane in the atmosphere in 2005 (1774 ppb) exceeds by far the natural range of the last 650,000 years (320 to 790 ppb).
  • The primary source of the increase in carbon dioxide is fossil fuel use, but land-use changes also make a contribution.
  • Eleven of the past 12 years rank among the top 12 warmest years in the instrumental record (since 1850).
  • Warming in the last 100 years (1906-2005) has caused about a 0.74 degree Centigrade (1.332 degree Fahrenheit) increase in global average temperature. This is up from the 0.6 degree Centigrade (1.08 degree Fahrenheit) increase in the 100 years prior to the Third Assessment Report (1901-2000).
  • Observations since 1961 show that the ocean has been absorbing more than 80 percent of the heat added to the climate system and that ocean temperatures have increased to depths of at least 9800 feet.
  • Average Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the second half of the 20th Century were very likely higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 years and likely the highest in at least the past 1300 years.

From the University of Washington: "The atmosphere is warming faster in subtropical areas, around 30 degrees north and south latitude, than it is elsewhere." And that's us, the so-called horse latitudes. University of Washington scientists "examining more than 25 years of satellite data also found that each hemisphere's jet stream has moved toward the pole by about 1 degree of latitude, or 70 miles." Translation? A widening of the tropics, an expansion of "some of the world's driest regions."

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