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COURSEY: Rocks on the lawn, bricks in the toilet

The first house I owned in Santa Rosa had a front lawn of bright white rocks. No surprise – that was in 1981, and memories were still etched with fresh images of the great California drought of 1976-1977.

But those etchings proved shallow. In 1982, I dumped the rocks and planted a fresh carpet of water-guzzling grass in front of that house on Brookwood Avenue. It's been many years since I lived there, but I drive by the place all the time, and the lawn remains lush and green. I hate to even imagine how much water it has sucked up in 30 years.

I'm thinking about that lawn today because it hasn't rained for the better part of quite awhile around these parts. And when it's this dry in December and January in California, people start remembering The Drought.

In case you forgot, or – in the case of millions of Californians – you weren't born yet, it was seriously dry 35 years ago. 1976 was the fourth-driest year on record in the state, and that was followed by the driest year ever in 1977. The Russian River dropped to 15 percent of its historical average flow in '76, and 6 percent of average in '77. Some rivers in the state stopped flowing altogether.

Water conservation meant more than replacing grass with rocks. Some communities rationed water. Residents sometimes responded with creativity. A couple of bricks or a plastic jug placed in toilet tanks were the precursors to today's low-volume toilets. Water restrictors were inserted into shower heads. A popular bumper sticker advised: Save water – shower with a friend.

But it wasn't funny. Marin County got so dry an emergency water pipeline was laid across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

Nobody is predicting another drought. Not yet, anyway. A dry month – even a couple of dry months – does not make a drought.

But boy oh boy is it dry out there. The Department of Water Resources on Tuesday found no snow at 7,600 feet elevation near Echo Summit. That's zero, zip, nada. They did find a few inches of leftover snow at another location, and declared the water content of that "snowpack" to be 19 percent of normal.

In Santa Rosa, we received less than a tenth of an inch of rain in the entire month of December.

Again, it's probably just an anomaly. It doesn't mean anything that this year we had a wet October and a dry December – just like we did in 1976.

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