Cathedral -

Cathedral in the Desert 2005, exposed by low water level in Lake Powell (really a reservoir). © srstern

On January 17th, Governor Jerry Brown finally declared a drought emergency in the state. He also asked all citizens to cut back at least 20% of their water use. In typical  Jerry Brown fashion, he had lots of charts and photographs showing us how bad it is and it is very serious. Last year was the driest year that California has had since we started keeping records in 1895. The Department of Water Resources said that Gasquet Ranger Station in Del Norte County has only 43% of normal and Sacramento is even worse with 5.74 inches of rain instead of the typical 18 inches.

This is probably not news to anybody who lives here and has gone outside this year. I have never seen it this dry and I have lived here since 1940 and paid attention since about 1956, when I started backpacking. The scary thing is that we don’t really have enough water for our lifestyle even if there were no drought. The good news is that the drought, which is aggravating the problem, may actually make us think about the underlying problem.

Felt Lake, irrigation water for the Stanford University Campus

 Felt Lake, irrigation water for the Stanford University Campus. © srstern 

That is not something we – we meaning, probably, all Homo sapiens, maybe all mammals – are good at doing; looking at subtle, underlying, problems and correcting them before they become big emergencies. Jerry Brown was the first politician that I remember who talked about national limits, saying The country is rich, but not so rich as we have been led to believe. The choice to do one thing may preclude another. In short, we are entering an era of limits. He got laughed off the stage as Governor Moonbeam. Jimmy Carter was the first president to really face an energy crisis, complete with gas lines. He asked everybody to turn their heat down to save energy, and he was belittled for it, losing to Reagan’s It’s morning again in America campaign.

As an aside, Carter had several firsts as a president; he was the first president born in a hospital, he was the first president to wear jeans in the White House, he was the only president – so far – to have lived in subsidized public housing, and he was the only President to have been interviewed by Playboy. End aside. My friend Ed Cooney is in love with Jimmy Carter, Ed is an amateur presidential historian and smart enough to know that, in many ways, Jimmy Carter was not an especially effective president but enough in love to want to overlook these Presidential flaws. However, I think that he is actually in love with Carter because of Carter’s political flaws.

What hurt Carter as a president, is partially what made him admirable. Carter graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Annapolis and later did graduate work in atomic reactor technology and nuclear physics; he was a rational man more than a political man. He knew we weren’t going to solve our energy and resource problems by ignoring them, and we haven’t.

I am not sure if I have become more or less cynical over the years. I used to think that we would know when we really have a water problem when they stop watering the golf courses, now I am not so sure. Now I think that water flows towards money more than downhill and we can be in a very serious drought with very green golf courses.

Silverado Golf Course, evening mist. © srsternSilverado Golf Course, evening mist. © srstern

6 thoughts on “Drought

  1. I remember the big drought in the 70’s, the golf courses in Marin did turn brown. It will be interesting to see what happens this time. I have noticed that the ponds are low already at Silverado, so they are cutting back.

    1. Now that I think about it, there was a small golf course, in San Jose, that did dry up and die. I think that it was sold to a residential builder. Silverado seems to be cutting back but it is still pretty green.

  2. I don’t understand why it took until “the worst drought in history” for Brown to declare an emergency. I don’t understand why he made only “suggestions” about cutting back on water, saying cut back by 20% on watering your lawns or washing your cars. Pitiful. If you’re worried about water, watering cars and lawns should have been made completely illegal a couple of months ago. With the current “restrictions” nobody will take it seriously. Water is the most precious resource we have on earth. The wars fought over oil, gold, land, and other resources are tame compared to what’s coming in the fight for water.

    1. I have no idea why Brown waited so long or acted so feebly. It doesn’t seem like anybody is taking the drought seriously except for the farmers who are getting slammed.

  3. Its not just the farmers getting slammed. And, there are all sorts of things they could have done to prepare. Really slammed are all the natural systems that have their water pulled out from under them for our farms and cities without warning. They cant plan ahead they way farmers, cities, industry, can. And they don’t even know what we have in store for them.

    That said, some are resilient – some natural systems will be here long after we are gone – but I hope that we take them into consideration as we respond to the drought.

    Why did Brown ask only citizens to conserve? I’d hope everyone in the State will do their part even if here on a visa or otherwise. I’m amazed at the places we erect walls like citizenship when the reality is we are all in this together regardless of the color of our jersey.

    1. Well said, Richard. I hope that we take our natural world in consideration, too, it is – after all – we we all love living here.

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