The Rivers in California Have Not Evaporated from Climate Change

While the severity of California's current drought is not in dispute, many of the media claims about climate change in the state are overheated.  The Ecologist, whose motto is “setting the environmental agenda since 1970,” has an article entitled “Climate change and the downfall of California's big agriculture.”  Amongst the alarmism is this set of claims:

From trucking to packaging to marketing, there is no question that farming in California has created many jobs. However, like so many other sectors, it's come largely at the expense of the environment.

Rivers have evaporated, salmon have gone extinct, and entire populations of indigenous peoples have lost their water rights. Some have called it progress, others have called it a travesty.

But no matter what side of the fence you are on, the fact remains that water in California is no longer plentiful and likely will never be again no matter how much groundwater farmers pump to keep their crops alive while irrigation canals dry up.

Rivers have evaporated, irrigation canals are drying up, and water again will never be plentiful?  Water is in short supply of late, but is this part of a climate change trend, and are the wild claims in this article consistent with what is actually going on in the waterways?

The USGS maintains a database of streamflow conditions for 489 sites throughout California.  I looked at trends in annual streamflow for all sites since 1970 (i.e., since the National Climate Assessment told us the impacts of anthropogenic climate change should be most evident) and found only five sites with significant declining trends.  This was balanced by five sites with significant increasing trends in annual streamflow since 1970.  The remainder of the 489 sites had either no significant trends in streamflow since 1970 or an insufficient data record to determine a reliable trend.

In other words, it does not appear that the apocalyptic claims in The Ecologist's article regarding climate change and streamflow in California match up with the reality over the past several decades.