Brown lawns, fallow fields and higher water bills are all the predictable outcomes of the California drought.
The Golden State is in the midst of its driest period on record. But all that warm, dry weather affects more than just lake levels and snowpack — it has some downright weird effects, too. From pipe-eating poop to more roadkill, here are some of the strangest results of the California drought.
1. Pipe-eating poop
As water becomes scarce in California, more and more people are using low-flow toilets and adhering to the conservationist's adage, "If it's yellow, let it mellow," and are only flushing down if it's brown. [Dry and Dying: Images of Drought]
That may be good for water conservation, but it's bad news for sewage systems, at least in San Francisco. The high-tech city has some antique sewage pipes that were installed during the Gold Rush. People are still pooping as much, so each flush contains more waste with less water to flush it through the system. The waste that is broken down creates hydrogen sulfide, which eats through the concrete in the pipes, San Francisco's local CBS affiliate reported. And that means a higher potential for sewage leaks in the system.
2. More roadkill
Animals may be even more susceptible to the drought's effects than are humans. Since the drought means less greenery and animal food, animals must take bigger risks to reach food and water sources — even when that means crossing dangerous roads and highways. As a result, roadkill incidence may be increasing in the Golden State, according to an April report from the University of California, Davis. Of course, if the drought continues for long enough, overall wildlife populations could plummet, meaning there would be fewer animals to become roadkill in the first place, the report authors speculated.
3. Send in the snakes
The parched conditions may also lead to more close encounters of the slithery kind. People have been finding more rattlesnakes in their houses in Northern California. With fewer water sources away from homes, rodents are likelier to venture into peoples' homes. Rattlesnakes then follow, lured by their main prey, according to CBS News. Last summer, a Sacramento man who runs a rattlesnake-removal business took 72 of the deadly reptiles from people's houses in one week.
4. Kitten bonanza!
Some of the side effects of the drought are downright adorable. The drought has meant more warm days, and apparently cats react to warm weather just as people on a Hawaii vacation might — by getting busy. The warm, dry air may be causing more cats to mate and produce kittens. Animal shelters in Oakland, California, have reported 30 percent more kittens this season than usual, and the shelters are now struggling to place the felines in loving homes, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Of course, pinning the blame for all the fluffy products of feline love on the drought is a tough call. Cats in the wild don't typically respond to the stressful conditions of a drought by being friskier than usual, one biologist told the chronicle. Still, domestic cats may not be under the same environmental pressures, he said.
5. Pest growth
While drought may be bad for many animals, pests such as scorpions and spiders reproduce like crazy in the dry, warm conditions, Jim Fredericks, an entomologist and wildlife ecology expert with the National Pest Management Association, told CNN. Once the mercury rises too high, the legion of arachnids makes its way indoors to people's garages and homes to escape the heat. Some of the least welcome houseguests could include brown recluse and black widow spiders, according to Mother Jones.
6. End is near?
Thankfully, meteorologists are predicting that a monster El Niño weather pattern will hit California and last at least until fall. The warm, wet weather of the El Niñocould put a dent in the state's years'-long water deficit. But though drenching winter storms will be good news for the state's snowpack, reservoirs and crops, they could also come with some unpleasant side effects. The parched hillsides could be less able to absorb water, leading to more flooding and runoff, according to USA Today.
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Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.