Those who forget California water history are doomed to repeat it
Strong winds. Chance of up to 3 inches of rain in 48 hours.
Strong storms in the last three weeks that have saturated the land.
No one is thinking about the drought.
Come back in a few months.
No rain for months. A miserable Sierra snowpack on April 1 that was 38 percent of the historical average.
Groundwater tables fall farther. In some areas, the wells are drying up.
Ringed reservoirs that are moving downhill from lake classification to pond status.
Dead or dying injury.
Barren agricultural land. Orchards are dying.
Rest assured no one was worried about flooding in mid-August.
But here we are – again.
While the flooding is only localized as the San Joaquin River is far from flood stage, unless the storms suddenly switch to heavy warm rains as they did in 1992 and prematurely melt the heavy December snow within weeks, no one will fill U. – Retreats and flees to higher ground.
That said, wasting water during a storm is a decadent and reckless act.
However, you won’t have a hard time finding people who do.
On Wednesday there were sprinklers – mostly in commercial areas – watering grass that is dormant due to the cold and definitely not suffering from a lack of moisture.
There is likely water debris that you are not seeing. People who make small clothes instead of big ones when possible.
Those who take long 20-minute showers every day.
The list goes on and on.
If you live in San Joaquin County—or any other county that is part of the Delta or their respective watersheds—such behavior is not simply irresponsible. It’s reckless.
The Delta — of which San Joaquin County has the largest land area — is ground zero for California’s water problems and nearly every potential water disaster.
We are just a few feet above sea level where two massive bodies of water empty into San Francisco Bay.
When there is spring storm runoff, it naturally pools here.
We can build all the dams and levees we want, but we are not changing the forces of nature.
We live in sediments that formed over hundreds of thousands of years after nature created places like Yosemite Valley to fill what was once a vast inland sea.
Sea level rise is old hat.
San Francisco’s Ocean Beach at one point was miles from the edge of what we call the Pacific Ocean.
Mega-droughts, mega-floods, and ice ages over the past 1.5 million years have shaped the Sierra and much of what we now refer to as California.
It is hubris, pure and simple, that what is right in front of our noses at any given moment is what we assume controls our destiny. And that includes the weather.
We’re all on Twitter when social media or the breathless media cover “atmospheric rivers.”
This term was coined in 1994. It describes a weather condition that brings heavy moisture from the tropics that was once referred to as “The Pineapple Express”.
In the 1970s and earlier, the same weather phenomenon was responsible for serious flooding up and down Northern California.
PG&E reminded customers in the 1970s that their crews were working hard to keep the lights on as they faced some of the nation’s most rugged terrain with the wildest winter weather along the Northern California coast, as well as in the Cascades and Sierra .
Today we accurately attribute everything to climate change, but then we add a lot of hubris.
The conceit that man somewhere started the proverbial fire and can stop it comes not from scientists, but from those with vested agendas.
Again, climate change is real. It has always been true. The problem is us and how we adapt as a species.
When the well-documented Great Flood of 1862 left nearly every square foot of the Central Valley under water for months, there were fewer people living between Bakersfield and Redding than there are today in Tracy, Manteca and Lathrop.
Sacramento County had 14,000 in 1860. Today it has 1,576,618 people.
San Joaquin County had 10,000 people in 1860. Today it has 771,560 people.
Yes, there were fewer dams – almost non-existent – in 1862 and the fur system was in its infancy.
But at some point, if you put up enough roofs, put up enough soil, you’re steadily increasing the frequency of serious floods and serious droughts.
When Mormons attempted to establish a farming colony called New Hope near the confluence of the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers in 1846 south of Manteca and west of Ripon, there was not a single house in the 1,426 square miles that make up modern San County. Joaquin.
Likewise, when the devastating drought of 1924 hit the region and wiped out nearly every crop and orchard, and led to livestock dying from lack of water, the farmland in San Joaquin County was not helping to feed most of the nation. – which was less populated then – as it is today.
The fairly typical flow in the winter of 1846 caused the San Joaquin River to flow more than six miles wide as it approached the Delta forcing the Mormons to abandon New Hope.
The moves have since reduced flooding.
But even with trash, the area where New Hope landed south of Manteca has flooded 11 times since 1929, forcing significant evacuations when levees along the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers have failed.
Construction of the original Melones Dam by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District and Oakdale helped avoid a repeat of the devastating drought of 1923, including the drought between 1928 and 1937.
However, it is not responsible for the region’s subsequent droughts after 1937, which numbered six. Contribute this fact to the construction of three more dams by SSJID and OID – Tulloch, Beardsley and Donnells. Also credit the Central Valley Project’s new Melone Dam that floods the original Melone Reservoir.
But the big difference between the devastating drought and the ability to cope has been with simple technology like lined gutters, buried pipes, low-flow shower heads, low-flow toilets, water-efficient washing machines and modern techniques of agricultural irrigation.
Yes, more tanks will help – up to a point. But they must be off-stream reservoirs like the San Luis near Los Banos and the proposed sites in Colusa County that will capture excess winter runoff compared to snowmelt.
Aquifer recharge using storm runoff plus recycled water is also necessary.
But in terms of short-term differences that will help us cope with droughts on the near horizon, it’s changing the way we use water on the landscape.
As for the flood, we need to change the way we lay out heaven. More development patterns are needed that allow for runoff that increases proportionally with the same amount of rainfall as more roofs are built to be absorbed into the soil on site.
And perhaps most important is the need to end our collective ignorance about our water supply and how we use what we have.
Lawn sprinklers that happily run in the middle of a big storm will come back to haunt us when nature shuts up and reservoirs and aquifers drop precariously.
This column is the opinion of the editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at [email protected]