Friday, while the heavens were drenching the Valley with heavy rains, Gov. Jerry Brown lifted his emergency drought declaration for most of California.
If you’re thinking that means it’s perfectly OK to take extra-long showers, saturate your lawn with water this summer or stop planting drought-resistant shrubs and flowers, you’d be wrong.
There was an asterisk attached to the governor’s statement Friday: Despite the heavy rains, the drought emergency order remains for Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Tuolumne counties, where groundwater supplies are far below normal.
The governor’s move was wise. By continuing the drought declaration for these four Valley counties, he protected a series of emergency drinking water projects already under way here.
Furthermore, it’s highly probable that another drought is around the corner. It’s like the governor said, “Conservation must become a way of life.”
Climate change isn’t going away. The future is sure to be full of extreme weather – years of broiling summers with explosive wildfires followed by extremely wet winters that trigger flooding, mudslides and avalanches.
Consider what the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, a nonprofit that conducts scientific research on water issues, had to say in a statement sent Friday: “California just experienced the greatest drought on historical record, followed by the wettest year since 1895. This is consistent with the predictions of how our climate will change as the earth warms.”
Millions of Californians met the challenge during the drought by conserving precious drops. But despite our best efforts, our state still suffered mightily with huge economic losses in agriculture and devastation to our forests from disease, insects and wildfires.
Tree mortality remains an epidemic in the Sierra. Our aquifers are overdrafted. Thousands of wells have gone dry or turned putrid in the southern San Joaquin Valley, thus there are rural communities that must rely on bottled or trucked-in water for drinking, cooking and bathing.
This should be a time for the Legislature to prepare for what’s coming. The state must finally get going on water projects to boost supplies before the next inevitable drought cooks us. Get going, too, on improvements that will better protect Californians from the next inevitable onslaught of rain.
In Oroville, the deluge nearly led to destruction. Some 188,000 people had to be evacuated in February after an untested emergency spillway crumbled, nearly sending a “wall of water” into neighborhoods and businesses along the Feather River.
Meanwhile, parts of Big Sur remain cut off to the world after mudslides all but destroyed a bridge along Highway 1. And in the northern Sierra, where precipitation this year has been twice the historical average and the snowpack stands at 61 percent above average, Highway 50 is still down to one-lane near near Bridal Veil Falls after part of the road crumbled down hillside.
But what’s really disturbing is that most of this year’s water – billions of gallons of it – is flowing into the ocean because California hasn’t gotten around to building enough capacity to store it.
Thus we repeat our previous exhortations that California leaders do all they can to make the planned dam at Temperance Flat on the San Joaquin River and the planned reservoir at Sites west of the Sacramento River in northern California become reality.
In wet years and dry years, we must utilize all the water we can. This requires new above-ground water storage incorporated into a broad water portfolio that includes waste water recycling, storm water capture, desalination, conservation and environmental protection.
State legislators and water officials, in concert with the federal government, must get serious about protecting residents, the economy and our fish, wildlife and scenic wonders from the epic challenges that climate change presents.