As we entered the fall of 2022 in California, news headlines read of a 1,200-year drought and state agencies warned the current drought from 2020 to 2022 was the driest on record.
In a matter of weeks, stories changed to talk of flooding, mudslides, and record rainfall. The New Year brought one of the wettest months on record in California. This set of evolving headlines is nothing new.
This is what happens in in California and this short period of changing headlines can be found frequently.
Also a seeming constant? The doom-and-gloom talk during dry years that we may never see snow again.
Here we are again: We made it through the doom and gloom with snow-packed mountains and increased reservoir levels.
But, one thing has not changed: the way we manage water.
A wet month or two triggers something in California under our current political landscape, a landscape that has been mostly unchanged for four decades.
What is triggered is the reset to ensure California remains in a drought. Coupled with some of the greatest water infrastructure in history built to capture water in order to supply our population and feed it, comes water managers, political leaders, and laws who manage its flow.
Only in California can you have the ability to save several years’ worth of water demand, be fortunate enough to have it met by Mother Nature, and have your fellow man waste it all.
The releasing of water last month brought a bit more of an outcry from the public than we are used to hearing. After all, it wasn’t long ago they weren’t sure in what year during the 1,200-year dry span they were living.
We seemingly went from driest conditions in history to dams spilling water, overnight. The confusion is understandable from most people.
Admittedly, it’s probably confusing also to some state and Federal bureaucrats and politicians who were convinced it would never storm again.
But poor decision-making in California ensures we will always be in some form of drought. Decisions that have compounded for decades and have not only been enforced but have been stiffened by the continuation of the practice of electing like-minded people over and over again.
Most of us get lost when we hear talk of biological opinions, incidental take permits, and coordinated operating agreements.
Rest assured, these are all important things that decide how much water you will have for a period of time. This is where politics takes a swim in our water.
You would think science drives decision-making but over the course of several decades, we have seen science and historical fact become irrelevant.
A couple of years ago, we received a brand new set of water guidelines for our state which took into account the latest data and science.
Soon after, our Governor filed suit to stop them. The State of California charted its own course much like it does often as if it were a different country.
A federal election then occurred and we found our water being managed under the same failed policies of the previous decade, embracing a calendar-based approach to pumping water rather than adjusting for real-time effects in the Delta.
This calendar-based approach caused declining fish numbers, the fallowing of hundreds of thousands of food producing acres, water quality decline, underground aquifer decline, and areas of ground subsidence. We are about to see how really bad that decision was and if you thought January flows to the ocean were confusing, just wait.
Since the reset button of manufactured drought has been pushed and is backed by the religious following of failed previous water management guidelines, you could see unprecedented amounts of water flow straight to the ocean.
I’m sure you are asking, why can’t we save some of that? We can’t.
That is because in order to save some of that, we would be running pumps in the Delta at capacity in order to pick it up and put it behind a dam.
But, because of our return to failed policy by our Governor and federal water managers, pumping will be restricted while water continues to the Pacific Ocean. The rain and snow has stopped for now but there is plenty of snow sitting on mountain peaks waiting to melt. Seasonal temperatures can help it to melt and so can a warm rain.
When it comes, environmental regulation will require pumping restrictions at the very time we should be absolutely ready to store more water.
We will not be ready because we have no elected political will to be ready. This is how we all remain in a perpetual drought.
Not only do we not have the right amount of infrastructure to be ready for this situation but our current leadership won’t even use the infrastructure we currently have to benefit our people and businesses.
The snow is still up there and we have time to change course. But, if we do not make enough noise to change this course, we will be saying: here we are again.