And the Water Conservation Winner is…

We got almost half an inch of rain between the two small storms last week.  In laypersons’ terms, half an inch is enough to wet the soil completely.  It’s enough to make puddles but not run off.  Enough to irrigate the vegetables, small grasses and cover crops with shallow roots but not enough to reach tree roots.  Normally, we would consider half an inch of rain to be the “perfect amount” of rain, if we got that much once or twice a week.  But of course, that isn’t the case this year.

What was really exciting about last week’s rain is that it was more than expected.  This coming after two months where every storm dropped less than expected — when it actually rained at all, which it really didn’t.

There’s not much reason for optimism that the drought will be reversed this winter — we’re just too far behind.  And there’s just an outside chance that the drought may end.  But it seems like  it may not get any worse, which is a good thing because statisticians are using terms like “worse drought in 300 years”.   If you go much farther back than that, droughts were so long that trees grew on lake beds in the Sierra.  Scary stuff.

One benefit of this terrible drought has been increased coverage by the media of the incredibly complex water issues confronting our state.  Hopefully this will lead to an increase in awareness on the part of the average Californian.  I recently learned from an article in the LA Times that many areas in Southern California have been preparing for drought for over a decade, pushing water conservation for years, to the point where total consumption is down despite population growth.  San Diego County recently finished building a big new reservoir.

In many other places though, including Northern California, complacency has been the norm, which may be why the crisis is actually worse here.  But perhaps the best example of short-term thinking was Santa Barbara, which actually built a desalination plant back in the 1980s, only to partially dismantle it and sell off critical parts twenty years later as if drought was a thing of the past.

It’s going to rain again this weekend, enough that it may seem to many people that the weather is “back to normal”.  But it would take a week or two of serious downpours just to to knock the Drought Champion crown off the head of winter 2014.  And it would take historic flooding to reverse it — although that is how the drought ended in 1991.

We all need to keep talking about water and how to manage it better, even when it’s raining and even if — when, we hope — this drought ends.  The way they’ve been doing in, you know, um… Southern California.




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