This week’s rainstorms belie a simple truth — the drought is back. A few days of storms cannot undo months of dryness. Like it or not, Californians need to get back into a drought mindset.
Three months ago, things didn’t look so bad. Less than one-third of the state was critically dry at the end of November, and winter storms promised saturation and snow pack in the mountains.
But the storms didn’t come. Now 92 percent of the state is in some level of warning from abnormally dry to severe drought. Most of Sonoma County and the North Coast are the lucky areas not yet in danger, but that’s likely to change as summer approaches.
For an average year, precipitation by now should be approaching 40 inches in the northern Sierra. As of Thursday, only 21.3 inches had fallen. That’s below even the terribly dry 2014-15 season. Meanwhile, the critical snow pack stood at less than a quarter of the historic average.
The current storms will help, but they are unlikely to help enough. They are forecast to dump several feet of snow high in the mountains. That will move the needle only a few percentage points. Several more sustained storms are needed to replenish our water reserves. But they aren’t in the forecast.
It’s not too soon to start conserving, then. A gallon saved now is a gallon available when it really matters.
Drought affects everyone. The last time we were in a drought, the state required residential consumers to curtail outdoor watering and washing. The more conscientious and communitarian among us took simple steps to reduce use inside the home, too, such as taking shorter showers.
The agriculture industry that drives so much of the region’s economy might feel the impacts even harder, though. When the aquifer dips and reservoirs are low, water for irrigation may come up short.
Drought also means dry vegetarian. After last year’s devastating fires, we’re all acutely aware of the risks that entails.
Gov. Jerry Brown lifted a drought state of emergency after healthy precipitation last winter. By the looks of things, he and his staff shouldn’t delay imposing a new one.
Even absent a formal state of emergency, last year’s state report “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life” ought to be the framework for immediate action. Unfortunately, its implementation has run into opposition.
Last week, the state Water Resources Control Board considered restoring residential conservation rules and making them permanent. The board delayed action, though, after officials from irrigation and water agencies spoke against the plan. Their concern was not the rules themselves but that the way the board wanted to justify them might create a slippery slope to even more limits in the future.
California doesn’t have time to worry about phantom slopes, slippery or otherwise. Could irrigation districts face future limits? You bet. If drought continues to be the new normal, the state will have to look at conservation where most of the water is consumed.
In the meantime, set out a rain barrel to capture some of the water falling from the sky today. In a few months, you’ll probably be glad you have 50 extra gallons for your garden.