California caught between drought and the 'Big One'

TWO LONG shadows have fallen over the sunny landscape of southern California. They concern the darkest fears of a society which has long grown used to the idea that it is living in a semi-desert on America's western rim which probably should never have been populated: earthquakes and drought.

After studying the volatile web of geological flaws underlying the state, seismologists have concluded that the odds of a devastating earthquake within the next five years have increased significantly. At the same time, water- starved California is heading for its seventh year of drought, the longest dry period for 400 years.

The earthquake warning was largely the result of the Landers quake (7.5 Richter magnitude) that shook up a sparsely populated southern desert area in June. Although there was limited damage, it was the worst quake in the state for 40 years, and increased the pressure on the San Andreas Fault, a flaw that runs up most of the state like a fat underground firework, waiting to explode. A team of leading seismologists have concluded that this, and other recent rumblings, increased the likelihood of a major quake - magnitude 7.0 or more - within the next five years to almost 50/50. By way of comparison, the earthquake which caused widespread destruction and killed more than 60 people in the San Francisco Bay area in 1989 was a 7.1.

Setting odds for earthquakes is tricky and imprecise, and the scientists, brought together by the US Geological Survey and the state's emergency planning officials, included plenty of qualifications in their findings. But they reported that portions of the San Andreas Fault appear 'ready for failure', and concluded by emphasising the 'plausibility of large damaging earthquakes affecting metropolitan areas of southern California'. Heavily populated areas near the fault include Los Angeles' dormitory cities of San Bernardino and Riverside.

Californians tend to be cavalier about the prospect of the 'Big One', if only because they have been warned many times before. But now there are signs of genuine alarm: more than 1,000 callers swamped an earthquake safety hotline demanding copies of the report. The media have run stories advising people to bolt down their furniture and stock up on food.

If these prophecies have an apocalyptic flavour, so too do the forebodings of the state's water officials. They say that Californians should prepare for a drought emergency this year. Reservoirs are only half-full and ground-water supplies are under heavy pressure. Much of California's water comes from reservoirs in the mountainous north, and is carried by aqueducts to the south where the bulk of the 31 million population is concentrated. Last year rainfall in the north was nearly 30 per cent below normal.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory