Yesterday we did something on the farm that we haven’t done since early November: we turned a pump on to irrigate a field. It was just one field, and we didn’t water for very long. The ground in all of our fields is still quite wet just a few inches down, but we had just finished planting salad greens into the topmost inch of soil where it is dry.
We could have waited for next week’s forecast rain to arrive and sprout the seeds, but that would delay the harvest by a week.
The water level in our wells and wells throughout our area are higher right now then they have been in almost ten years. True, they had gotten quite low during 2015 and 2016, dropping about 45 feet. But now they are back to pre-drought levels thanks to the absurdly wet winter of 2017.
It’s frustrating to me to hear and see statements that the California drought is not over yet: it’s just not true. Less than 10% of the state is still in a drought. Some people seem to be holding onto the idea that this drought was different somehow, maybe due to climate change, and that this might just be a pause before it continues.
Of course there are going to be more droughts in California. But this drought, like most other droughts in state history, has ended with a bang. In this case, one of the wettest years on record for many areas.
What about groundwater? In most of Northern California, aquifers are directly related to surface water flow. During dry periods they get drawn down over time, and then refill in wet years when creeks and rivers are flowing high and hard. They also get used less by farmers, who don’t have to irrigate as much when the soil profile is full of moisture.
There are certainly areas further south in our state where groundwater is being pumped from wells that are so deep that their aquifers are not replenished by rainfall. But even in those areas, the abundant water in our full-to-overflowing reservoirs will be available to many farmers and citydwellers who have been relying too heavily on groundwater the last four years. The aquifers will get a break.
Since the last big drought ended in California, our population has doubled. And yet we somehow managed to squeak through the drought this time despite the fact that no new large reservoirs have been built. And that’s unfortunate, because during this year’s storms, we could have filled another reservoir the size of Lake Oroville with the excess water flowing out to the ocean in just one day.
It may true that climate change is going to make the weather in our state, which is already pretty extreme even more so. The only thing we can do about it in the short term is to beef up and modernize our instrastructure to prepare for it. But instead of doing that, our leaders are passing laws trying to set an example for the world by reducing carbon emissions. That’s a noble cause, but not a practical one. We need to be able to store more of the water that we do get, for the times when we don’t get it.