“And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”
— John Steinbeck
UPDATE: Maybe something to that whole superstition thing after all. Looks like California’s first wet storm of the season coming this weekend.
I can’t walk Rosie the dog in the forest right above our house without coming home dirty. Every step raises a small cloud of the talcum-like volcanic dirt that passes for soil around here, and the stuff shifts under my feet like fine sand.
If I stop short, the little cloud of dust that’s been following me catches up (now I know what Peanuts character Pig-Pen feels like).
It’s not supposed to be this way; by now Rosie and I should be trudging through snow or at least walking on dirt held in place by the moisture deposited by melted snow or rain, but it’s bone dry.
In fact, it’s bone dry over most of California.
The state began measuring precipitation 164 years ago, and in many locations (including San Francisco and Willits), the precipitation is the lowest ever recorded in a single calendar year.
In a state where we fight over the water even in the wet years, this doesn’t look good.
I got a little spoiled; a few years ago we enjoyed two seasons of above-average rainfall, and the trout in my small streams got just a little bigger than average. The last two years have been less forthcoming (last year was a disastrously dry year), and my average small stream fish grew noticeably smaller.
In some cases, they got small enough I simply stopped fishing for them. In simple terms, it’s not looking good for next spring.
Breathe. Just breathe.
Right now, the state’s holding its breath. In fact, I get the distinct impression we’ve become a group of people who aren’t going to utter the d-word (drought ).
It’s a little like a statewide version of the baseball superstition, where just commenting on a pitcher’s emerging no-hitter jinxes it.
Still, some aren’t superstitious, and they’re pointing out that most of the West is, in fact, in the grip of a Megadrought — a decades-long dry spell.
Some even wonder if we’re about to fall into into one of the 100+ year-long hyper-droughts that have twice afflicted the state over the last 1,100 years.
Suddenly, that cold glass of water I’m about to pour down the drain demands a little more respect.
Is That A Cloud On The Horizon?
There’s still time, of course, for the rains to come and the snow to fall — our “wet season” stretches from late fall to mid-spring — but there’s no real weather on the horizon.
In a state where the water produced in even the wettest years is horrifyingly over-allocated (I’ve seen estimates from 5x to 25x more legal claims than actual water in the California Delta), this simply doesn’t look good.
Couple that with the reality that we built this state in one of the wettest stretches of the last 2,000 years, and you can develop a serious headache.
It’s little wonder that water agencies and irrigators (especially the much-despised-by-the-Underground Westlands Irrigation District) boast legal staffs capable of litigating small countries out of existence.
As Twain noted, out West, whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting, and with many of the state’s reservoirs at a fraction of their normal levels — and no wet weather or snowpack to fill them — we’re about to see just how vicious that fighting can be.
See you taking a dirt bath, Tom Chandler.