Spring and early summer are typically the best time of year to experience the incredible beauty of our local mountains. From the charismatic Humboldt lily to the humble larkspur, the rugged lands surrounding the LA Basin teem with unique and brilliant life – but this year was different. The weather station at Van Nuys Airport reported a mere 3.6 inches of rain this year, just over a quarter of its historic average. Living in our urban environments, we’re shielded from the most immediate effects of drought; our taps still flow at the turn of a handle, and gardens bloom uninterrupted, but take a hike through our local mountains you’ll see a dramatically different story.
Our team at TreePeople Land Trust performs vegetation monitoring every spring, and the results this year were shocking. Our sampling sites contain a mix of perennial shrubs and trees forming islands between a sea of grass and flowers. This plethora of annual species is extremely dependent on recent rainfall, and it’s here that the drought’s impacts are most readily seen, with some samples showing a 70% drop in vegetation cover from the previous year. Even non-native annual grasses, which we normally fight tooth and nail to prevent their growth, struggled to grow and produce seed this year. Unfortunately, these developments aren’t unique to our area, and these local conditions are just the canary in the coal mine for a larger story unfolding in the West.
California’s last drought (which never really ended, depending on who you talk to) was largely isolated to the state and its immediate surroundings, but now the entire West is experiencing some degree of drought, and with another La Niña predicted next winter, the outlook for relief isn’t promising. Just this week, the U.S. Government formally declared the first-ever water shortage on the Colorado River, the source of over a third of Southern California’s water.
The state and most local water districts have not issued mandatory cutbacks for residents, but we can’t afford to wait for official declarations – the drought is here and is only going to get worse. There’s no time waste. We need to get to work now.
Deputy Director, TreePeople Land Trust