California Drought Report #23


The red line is the total average, the green line is a 60 year running average.

It is reported that California has only one year of water remaining in lakes and reservoirs across the state. What happens when that water is gone and the drought continues? We will soon come to realize how tenuous our control over the region’s water is as we face an extended drought. We will be unable to sustain our over grown society that is used to the idea of abundant water.

In history when an extended drought was evident the native Californian’s first conserved the precious resource, using a little as possible, and then as the drought was sustained they moved on. They left the valley, the river delta and fled into the mountains where they could find enough moisture to sustain life. Or, north were there was abundant water. The question is, will we have a modern version of this drought driven exodus? During the “Dust Bowel” in the 1930s farmers pack up their families and moved to California, looking for rich land and lots of water to grow their crops.

Over the last 100 years California and the Southwest have experienced a century of benign, moderately wet times according to scientists. Historically the last century has not been “the normal” conditions for the region. California has been much drier for longer periods of time, according to paleoclimatologist, scientist that have studied the tree rings, the minden shell piles, and sediment cores from lakes, rivers and bays. Many of the climate cycles they have discovered are centuries long. We many very well be coming to the end of a relatively wet century and are on the cusp of a very dry century.

Ingram and Malamud-Roam, writing in the The West without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us about Tomorrow

Today, all of the West’s great rivers are dammed, and hardly a drop of the flowing surface water remains unmanaged or uncontrolled. This new norm is insidious: the population has a collective idea of abundant water for consumption, despite what the region’s forests and waterways indicate. Too few of the region’s inhabitants notice the connections between dying forests, drying riverbeds, shrinking lakes and reservoirs, and the creeping drought. Water continues to flow through the taps, swimming pools are full, and vegetables are abundant and gleaming on supermarket shelves. But we should not have to wait until the reservoirs run dry to realize how tenuous our engineered control of the region’s water is in the face of drought or massive floods. Engineered water management was an aid to building a large, modern society in the West during what is now understood to have been a century of benign, moderately wet times. It is most certainly not likely to sustain what is now an engorged, vastly overgrown modern society.

Each family in the state needs to be asking, what will we do if there is an extended drought and the states reservoirs remain sun baked mud flats? Will you move on like the native Californian’s did? All the water delivery infrastructure in the state will be useless if the reservoirs and rivers are dry. And, that is becoming a higher probability with every passing day.

About Russ Steele

Freelance writer and climate change blogger. Russ spent twenty years in the Air Force as a navigator specializing in electronics warfare and digital systems. After his service he was employed for sixteen years as concept developer for TRW, an aerospace and automotive company, and then was CEO of a non-profit Internet provider for 18 months. Russ's articles have appeared in Comstock's Business, Capitol Journal, Trailer Life, Monitoring Times, and Idaho Magazine.
This entry was posted in Analysis, California, Climate Change, Drought. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to California Drought Report #23

  1. Fuzz says:

    Russ, all new home construction in California should include plumbing for total gray water capture and stormwater capture. Yesterday I believe I heard on the news that areas near Houston, TX got 9 inches of rain in 3 hours. Think about the runoff from that that could have been effectively harvested and stored. Malls, such as the Galleria in Roseville, could build solar arrays over the parking lot with gutters and underground tank storage. In a lot that big the collection might serve the internal water need (restrooms, food court, etc.) for x months. The ingenuity of people to create a California oasis must now be used to prevent desertification. I have a used 55 gal. blue plastic barrel I got at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply (had liquid kelp in it) that I fill with clean waste water from the house. Then I use that to water my reduced garden. (My garden is now in self-watering pots (bottom reservoir). Californian’s can’t think of doing things like this as a “pain in the butt” but simply the adjustment to a new way of life….. and hope that it’s enough.


  2. Stu says:


    Here is where I start to have a problem, I pay for every drop of water used in my household, what gives our brown acid flashback Governor the right to tell me what to do with my legally bought and paid for property?

    We are not stupid or selfish (at least I hope not) and as multi gen NorCal understand how precious water can be and don’t “waste” any to start with. So this year we’ll let the lawns die and the veggie garden will be a few pots of tomato’s and a zucchini watered with the “wait for the hot water captures” – already have “flush twice” toilets that don’t get flushed for #1 – we’re not “wasting” water – cut back what? 1 shower a week? paper plates and plastic utensils? (the eco freaks will be out on that one!)

    If I chose to keep my pool filled (we live at the very edge of developed land and with fire season coming up the extra 35k gal might just save a house or two) it is my choice as long as I can pay the bill – but bottled water companies can pump all ground water they want without metering?

    Funny thing is, I drive to LALA land several times a year and don’t recall seeing many brown lawns once south of Tejon Pass – heading there again this weekend and next – not anticipating much difference…


    • Russ Steele says:


      We are also concerned, as were being efficient with our water before the mandated savings. Last month is was 33 gallons a day for each of us. We have hotshots on the kitchen sink and I use a tea kettle in the master bath to warm water for shaving, not wasting any waiting for the warm water to arrive from our on demand hot water system. We are planting herbs this year in the garden plat, rather than more water hungry veggies. We installed a low flow toilet in the master bath and plan to do the same in the half bath, and the put a water saver in the guest bath, that does not get much use.

      I see the problem more as mismanagement of the our water resources, flushing good water down the river to control the salinity of the delta. During the 200 year drought, there was no river water to flush the delta and it survived the increased salinity. It would again. Due to mismanagement the burden not falls on the user, when it was the leadership that failed to harbor our water resources. There is going to be hell to pay two years from now when the all the dams are just mud flats baking in the sun.


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