February 23, 2019
California Droughts Impact Health
Be Well

California Droughts Impact Health

by Keng Lam, MD

The lack of rain in the Golden State is no laughing matter. This year’s drought is the worst one in at least a decade. Why should you care? California produces nearly half of the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the U.S., and the negative effects of drought will go beyond limited produce availability and rising food prices.

Take, for example, water quality. In many parts of California, such as the Central Valley (located in central California) and other rural communities, water comes from beneath the earth’s surface. The less rain we get, the more concentrated contaminants in the groundwater (such as industrial nitrates and naturally occurring arsenic) become.

In addition, droughts dry out vegetation, increasing the frequency of wildfires. The fires create smoke and dust conditions, which are particularly problematic for those who have respiratory illnesses, such as asthma.

And because of the lack of rain, government officials in some parts of California are rationing water (e.g. city of Santa Cruz) which may lead to less frequent hand washing as residents attempt to conserve. This can compromise health by facilitating the spread of infectious illnesses ranging from flu to gastroenteritis.

I am confident that this drought won’t be the last one, and other states across the U.S. may face similar situations. It is more than just inconvenience and a dry lawn: it is a threat to public health.