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Letter to Fred Upton, Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce and Ed Whitfield, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power - Hearing on California Droughts


Location: Washington, DC

The Honorable Fred Upton
Committee on Energy and Commerce
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Ed Whitfield
Subcommittee on Energy and Power
Committee on Energy and Commerce
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Chairman Upton and Chairman Whitfield:

We are writing to request that you hold a hearing to examine the connection between climate change and the severe drought in the West, as well as the physical and economic effects of the drought.

Scientists have long predicted that climate change would increase the intensity and duration of droughts. In 2009, a report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program projected that climate change would drive longer, more frequent, and more severe droughts in the Southwest. In fact, the report found that the frequency of drought in much of the West has already increased. Jonathan Overpeck, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Arizona, testified in 2011: "There is broad agreement in the climate science research community that in the Southwest... the warmer atmosphere will lead to more frequent and more severe (drier) droughts in the future. All of the above changes have already started, in large part driven by human-caused climate change."

Current conditions in California track the scientists' predictions. The year 2013 was the driest year ever in California, and this winter threatens to become the third consecutive year under drought conditions. With only 3.6 inches of rain in all of 2013, Los Angeles experienced its driest year ever. Nine of California's twelve major reservoirs are more than 50% below capacity.

Already, the drought is imposing severe harm on the state, and the effects are worsening. Dangerously low water levels are threatening drinking water supplies, agricultural production, and endangered aquatic species. There is an extreme risk of catastrophic wild fires, and the Governor of California has declared a drought emergency.

This year, for the first time ever in its 54 year history, the State Water Project will provide zero water supplies to the city and agricultural water districts it services. Normally, this vast water storage and delivery system provides water supplies for 25 million Californians -- two-thirds of the state's population -- and 750,000 acres of irrigated farmland across Northern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, the San Joaquin Valley, the Central Coast, and Southern California. Seventeen rural communities, home to 40,000 people, are in danger of running out of water in 60 to 120 days. For the first time ever, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife banned recreational fishing on dozens of the state's streams to protect endangered salmon and steelhead. Already wildfires have burned in Los Angeles County, and a particularly dangerous wildfire season is expected due to the drought conditions.

The economic costs of the drought are mounting quickly. Lost revenue from agriculture alone could reach $5 billion in 2014, according to the California Farm Water Coalition. Farmers are letting land lay fallow and selling off livestock as water allotments are reduced by state agencies. Ranchers are reporting triple their normal costs for raising cattle. In the Central Valley, where one third of the jobs are related to farming, the drought is increasing unemployment.

The American people are beginning to suffer the costs -- both economic and environmental -- of extreme weather connected to climate change. The Committee needs to understand the connection between climate change and drought in California and the Western United States, as well as the effects of severe droughts. We urge you to hold a hearing on this critically important issue.

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