Following a number of consecutive rainy seasons that have been drier than normal, the west coast is suffering what is considered to be its worst drought in 100 years, which could increase concentrations of contaminants in drinking water.
Recent reports show that water levels in the majority of reservoirs in California are less than 50% full, prompting California’s governor, Jerry Brown, to call for a state of emergency. The chances of a rapid recovery seem slim, as weather forecasts by USDA'a National Water and Climate Center predict that water levels will continue to drop further still. With snowfall this season being one of the lowest ever recorded, the problem stems largely from lack of snowpack, as snowmelt keeps the reservoirs topped up, which in turn supply residents with drinking water. These water woes extend to Oregon too, where residents also depend on seasonal runoff from melting snow to supply their drinking water. Unfortunately, as the mountains are devoid of snow this season, they will not be able to provide this service effectively.
According to Melissa Webb, a hydrologist based at USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Oregon's chances of recovery over the short term are slim. “The chances of making up this deficit are so small that at this point we’re just hoping for a mediocre snowpack,” she explained in a USDA statement. “We’d need months of record-breaking storms to return to normal. There’s a strong chance we’ll have water supply shortages across most of Oregon this summer.”
With the drought not looking to let up anytime soon, medical experts are concerned that groundwater sources could become contaminated with silt and other pollutants. According to a report on CBS News, 10 California communities are in danger of running out of drinking water within the next two months. Rural communities are particularly vulnerable as they lack the infrastructure, as well as the financial resources to upgrade existing infrastructure, to cope with drought. Besides being in short supply, drinking water resources are also at risk of contamination, because when water levels drop, contaminants become more concentrated, posing a health risk to residents.
Former state health official, Linda Rudolph, who is now co-director for the Center for Climate Change and Health in Oakland, says millions of Californian residents depend entirely on wells and other sources of groundwater that contain increasing concentrations of pollutants due to the dry conditions.
“Many groundwater basins in California are contaminated, for example with nitrates from over application of nitrogen fertilizer or concentrated animal feeding operations, with industrial chemicals, with chemicals from oil extraction or due to natural contaminants with chemicals such as arsenic,” explains Rudolph in the CBS News report.
Because drought conditions and reduced water levels can result in higher concentrations of contaminants in drinking water, both in reservoirs and in private wells, you would be well advised to take some precautions to safeguard your health. Home water purifiers, such as the range of Berkey water filter systems, offer a convenient method of removing a wide range of contaminants that are commonly found in drinking water sources, and are effective even when concentration levels are high.