4 Things You Need To Know About the California Drought

Oscar Winner Jessica Yu updates her 2012 water documentary Last Call at the Oasis and shares 4 outtakes on the California drought, groundwater depletion and novel ideas on saving water.

As you have read here in Water Currents and all over the news, the California drought is by all accounts epic.  When the potential for catastrophic drought-related damages became clear this spring, our friends at Pivot TV, Participant Media‘s social advocacy channel, tapped Academy Award winner Jessica Yu to update her 2012 water documentary Last Call at the Oasis.

California water issues, including groundwater depletion in the Central Valley, were skillfully documented in Last Call.  I had the good fortune to appear in the film, and while Last Call was released in May, 2012, most of the footage that I recorded with Director Yu and Producer Elise Pearlstein (Academy Award nominee for Food, Inc.) was shot in 2010.

That's one dirty car. I can't remember when we washed it last. I call it my 'drought badge of honor.'
That’s one dirty car. I can’t remember when we washed it last. I call it my ‘drought badge of honor.’

In the four years that have passed since much of the filming was completed, the water situation in California has only grown worse.  The state is in its third year of drought with no end in sight.  The year 2014 is among the hottest and driest ever. Snowpack, streamflow and reservoir levels are at all-time lows.  Groundwater currently supplies nearly 70% of statewide water supply and consequently, this critical water supply reserve is being rapidly depleted.  The state has authorized fines of up to $500 for wasting water.  Federal and state legislation to better manage groundwater is now being developed and discussed.  Given the severity of the drought in California, an update to Last Call provides a timely reminder that, water-wise, everything here is no longer wonderful.

Water Currents readers know that my team’s work with the NASA GRACE mission has exposed the very serious and global nature of groundwater depletion.  I often use this blog to help translate our research findings into accessible posts that hopefully help get the message out.  I try to keep that message narrowly focused: in California, across the western United States, and in most of the major aquifers in the arid and semi-arid parts of the world, we are rapidly depleting our groundwater reserves.

Because the best available climate science suggests that these dry parts of the world will get drier in the coming decades, and demographic projections point to continued population growth in these sunny, dry climes, we should expect that groundwater depletion will only accelerate in the future…unless we take action to sustainably manage groundwater to preserve it for future generations.

I could write on this topic indefinitely, but when a renowned documentary film crew produces a full-length feature, and now an addendum of the highest quality, we should take advantage and use them to raise awareness.

That's my dog Leo pledging to do his part to save water. Taken on the UC Irvine campus in February, 2014.
That’s my dog Leo pledging to do his part to save water. Taken on the UC Irvine campus in February, 2014.

If you haven’t yet seen Last Call and you are concerned about water and the drought, don’t waste another minute. Show it in your communities, in your schools and churches, or watch it with your friends and family. By the way, I’ve seen it over 50 times now and it never gets old.

Even if you have not, you must watch the update. It’s just 22 minutes long, but it’s packed with a condensed version of Last Call’s California and Las Vegas stories, and includes new footage with  updates on the California drought and discussing our new study of Colorado River Basin groundwater depletion.  Here’s a link to some of that new footage.

The real reason for this post however, is to share these outtakes with you.  I hope that you find them to be accessible and a complement to the posts that I have been writing these last few years.   Please join me, Jessica Yu, Elise Pearlstein, Associate Producer Sandra Keats and the teams at Pivot, Take Part and Participant and help spread the word.  Please use them to communicate and educate, and share them widely.

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Jay Famiglietti is a hydrologist and Senior Water Scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is also a professor of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine, where he was Founding Director of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling. Jay's research group uses satellites and develops computer models to track changing freshwater availability around the globe. Jay is a frequent speaker and an active science communicator. His team's research is often featured in the international news media, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Economist, CNN/Fareed Zakaria GPS, Al Jazeera, National Public Radio, BBC Radio and others. Jay also appears in the water documentary called 'Last Call at the Oasis.'