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It will take more than a wet year to end California drought

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Everything is green. Soil profiles are full. Lakes are dam-top full. Rivers are flowing bank-to-bank, and it’s just mid-April. It has been so wet; salmon have made it up the San Joaquin River all the way to Dos Palos, Calif., this winter without the help of a single environmentalist.

Don’t you feel much better now that California’s three-year drought is officially over? Gov. Jerry Brown has declared it so.

Everything is green. Soil profiles are full. Lakes are dam-top full. Rivers are flowing bank-to-bank, and it’s just mid-April. It has been so wet; salmon have made it up the San Joaquin River all the way to Dos Palos, Calif., this winter without the help of a single environmentalist.

I gleefully inquired of farmers what did they think now that the drought is officially over? Westlands Water District board member and Kings County, Calif., farmer Ted Sheely was not smiling when he responded: “Explain to me how a 55 percent water allocation with a 165 percent snowpack is the end of a drought?”

He thinks a 165 percent snowpack should equate to at least something close to a 100 percent water allocation for farmers and cities alike.

Sheely’s sentiments are universal for anyone remotely associated with California water allocations. A Kern County farmer was quoted as saying the drought will be over when he can farm 100 percent of his land with surface water he contracted to receive.

Gov. Brown is a shrewd politico. He knew there would be snickers to his drought-ending proclamation with the state’s growing water crisis. Therefore, he also proclaimed, “While this season’s storms have lifted us out of the drought, it’s critical that Californians continue to watch their water use. Drought or no drought, demand for water in California always outstrips supply. Continued conservation is key.”

The governor is partially correct. Demand will forever outstrip supply. However, the call for conservation may be a bit off base. Conserving seems a bit draconian this year since there is more water available from state and federal water projects than places to store it. Flood management releases are increasingly weekly to make room for a torrential snow melt. Take as many long and lavish showers as you like this year because they could be the last ones you get for a while. The water may not be there next year.

After all, Al Gore says there’s global warming.

Unless there is the slowest, most prolonged snow melt in the climatic history of the state, there will be flooding starting at the first warm spell. Water managers are going to be busier than a herd of guinea pigs chasing each other in a cage wheel. If it warms quickly or there are warm spring rains in the Sierra Nevada, the next thing Gov. Brown could be proclaiming is a disaster.

It is ludicrous to think it would be practical to build storage to capture the amount of water that has fallen on the state this year. Hopefully, the majority of Californians will understand that having the ability to capture a portion of water from a winter and spring like this one would go a long way in the protracted process of creating more water supplies for the state. There is an opportunity in this very wet year to make a case for flood control dams that would also store water for future use. There are lessons to be taught voters this year to gain support for updating the state’s water management system.

Discuss this Blog Entry 1

Chris Gulick (not verified)
on Apr 8, 2011

You've left out a few key items haven't you ?
Water is being released down the Kern river because Isabella dam has still not been repaired 5 years later.
Why is the Kern Water Bank unable to capture those releases ?
The Delta pumps sit idle, not to protect a 3" fish, rather because there is nowhere to put the water.
If a peripheral canal was complete and functional today it would be sitting idle. Perhaps it is time to reexamine our priorities.
If we want regional self sufficeincy, we need to develop south of delta storage capacity.
There's no lack of water , just a lack of storage.

Note to author : You conveniently neglected to mention that once Arnold, that bastion of republican environmental responsibility, declared a drought emergency Jerry Brown was require by law to publicly declare it over. The solutions to the problems currently facing us are not going to be found in useless political satire and will still be here long after moonbeam is out of office.

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