The recent December rains have put some flow and energy back into our creeks. This is Little Butano creek, healthy as of mid-December. Sadly, the abundant rainfall has given the misapprehension that the Drought is over. It isn't over, and if we had some political and technical leadership in the region, it would never be over.
Photo: Lydon Graphic Design & Photography
"[The Drought] ain't ever over."
With a nod toward Yogi Berra.
Cursing the Rain
Damn! The rain no sooner hit the downspouts than the region's water managers and politicians began easing water restrictions. The sound of rain on the roof quickly erased any concerns about drought. It's difficult to keep the public's attention on drought as they scurry down to the hardware store to buy sandbags. The common everyday folks can be forgiven, but those who have the responsibility to set policy and to LEAD cannot.
But, as the City of Santa Cruz eases its water conservation regulations, they admit on their website: "Unfortunately, we cannot predict when the drought will end."
You got that right, bucko. And if the City of Santa Cruz (and other agencies) had the political will and courage, they would stand out in the rain and scream to the highest heaven that the drought will never end because they know in their hearts that drought is a part of this landscape. And they've not addressed the issue directly yet.
Drought not only never leaves the room, he's seated at the head of the table.
"But there were dry years too, and they put a terror on the valley…and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way."
John Steinbeck, East of Eden in describing the Salinas Valley.
The sad thing about this recent rain is that we were just beginning to get somewhere. The water shortage had the region by the testicles and was squeezing down tighter each day, convincing the public and water professionals alike that something should be done. Sure they were still wrangling over small stuff, like putting flyers in the water bills, or the diameter of nozzles and shower heads, and low flow toilets. But there were also clues that folks were beginning to realize that it was serious. Finally.
Some enlightened farmers were talking about rotating crops and leaving some of their fields fallow each year, and water companies were admitting that the aquifers were being seriously over-drafted. Hell, water district elections were being CONTESTED! Water board candidates actually had signs on street corners.
And then it rained hard and ruined everything. As I've explained in an earlier article (see Drought I), drought really is not directly connected to a lack or surplus of rainfall. It all depends on where you are and the impact a water shortage has on you.
One can't blame the public for turning away from the drought. We have the attention span of a bumble bee (no disrespect meant to the Friends of Bumblebees), and what do we expect with the 24-hour news cycle and people getting their news in no more than 140 characters in the palm of their hand?
But the water managers, water board members and elected officials know better. (Most historians know it too.) They know that Drought has always been in the room and never leaves.
The New Challenge
Now they are confronted with a huge challenge – to exhibit some leadership and educate the public that, despite the sound of water running through the downspouts, we have a continuing water crisis. And the harder part – to explain how their water bills will go up when they use less water. During a rainstorm! Talk about your counter-intuitivities.
Disaster memory is short, and if we are going to use this most recent dry spell to make any substantive changes, our leaders must exhibit the political courage to inform the region that the drought will never be over and begin to develop long-term policies and strategies accordingly.
Learning to live WITH drought.
We need to learn to live with drought, not live through it. Otherwise we are going to burden our children yet unborn to confront the issue over and over and again.
It ain't ever over.
Note: I'm going to continue this series on drought attention spans be damned. Drought Part IV that links the drought and depression of the 1870s with the anti-Chinese movement in the region will be in the next newsletter. If you want to see the first three articles, here are the links:
Drought I – The Mexican Era and the Screaming Horses Drought
II –The 1850s and the Lynching Drought
III – The 1860s and the Drought of Fat, Waddling Vultures
IV – (Coming in Early 2015) The 1870s; the Chinese are the Scapegoats for this Drought.