california drought,    Environment,    Water Wars

Lowest Precipitation Since Record-Keeping Began? It's Time California Started Talking Drought

Posted by Tom Chandler 1/7/2014

"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.

US Drought Monitor How's the whole "Go West, young man" thing looking now? 

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.

California Reservoir Levels In the grip of a Megadrought? Looks like it...

AuthorPicture

Tom Chandler

As the author of the decade leading fly fishing blog Trout Underground, Tom believes that fishing is not about measuring the experience but instead of about having fun. As a staunch environmentalist, he brings to the Yobi Community thought leadership on environmental and access issues facing us today.

13 comments
The weather is acting crazy – here in Denmark we have high temperatures for the winter, normally it is around 0 –5 c. I hope it soon will go to normal again ? I am also a trout fisherman, here we have a great river with some good seatrouts - If some of ever you should come Denmark, you could check it out – it,s in Kolding, Denmark.. Regards Tommy Jensen Fiskeriportalen.dk
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It's actually pretty astonishing how dry most of California's really productive agricultural land really is. Makes sense; plenty of sunshine, few rain/thunder/wind storms to destroy crops. Just add water. Lots of it. Not a bad idea, except when you decimate the water-rich areas (and the things living there) to do it. The sense that it's supposed to work that way is a common one out here, making for ... more something of an uphill battle for a lot of us.
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Interesting, thank you for your reply!
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I can't speak to the streamer issue beyond saying I've caught Rainbows in McCloud Reservoir on streamers. I think the rainbows that were taken to populate other rivers were taken from below the three McCloud falls, so they're really Coastal Rainbows which populate other nearby rivers.The real McCloud Redband trout evolved above the McCloud falls (in smaller streams which sometimes stopped flowing ... more in the fall). They're typically a small trout with a sizable tolerance for warm water. I doubt they'd be good streamer candidates given their size.
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UPDATE: Maybe something to that whole superstition thing after all. Looks like California's first wet storm of the season coming this weekend.
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Interesting post. Reading about a drought here seems a little more real compared to hearing about it on the news. Not to brag, but growing up in Michigan and living here +40 years hearing about a drought is interesting. As a society we are wasteful with H2O, to think we send space probes looking for water on other planets because we understand how valuable it is but when it comes to conserving water ... more we flush it down the toilet. Great Post Tom keep'm coming.
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Hi Tom, I just found your website and I'm really enjoying it. I live in that yellow blob of low water on the other side of the map (NJ), and I can certainly vouch for the shortage of water. Anyhow, I wanted to ask you a question about McCloud rainbows (since you offer quite a few links to the flows there). I fish the Delaware fairly often, and I talk about it even more. I'm not sure if you know this, ... more but the wild rainbows in the Delaware are McCloud natives, dumped into the river in the late 19th century, creating arguably the East's greatest trout fishery. A few conversations about these rainbows have suggested that they won't hit streamers, which I think sounds ridiculous. However, I've never caught one on a streamer, though when I was younger I got one on the upper Beaverkill on a spinner (I didn't know enough about the species at the time to understand how cool it was to catch one up there. In fact, they move much further into other rivers and tributaries than people know, even reaching NJ!). Anyhow, if these 'bows are in fact McCloud's, have you or anyone you know caught any on streamers? Let me clarify when I say streamers, I mean stripping them, not dead-drifting. Thank you in advance, and thank you for the blog. I'd love to contribute if contributions are welcomed. --David Finkel
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And here in TN we had too much rain almost. Hoping you're back to wrestling with the demon snowblower soon.
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Tough times ahead. What's always amazed me about the west is just how much agriculture irrigation goes on. I didn't fully appreciate this until a few years ago when I started tramping around Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. These places are essentially deserts and we're growing crops in them. And reading about the absurdity of Arizona, a place that actually is a desert, not getting its share of agriculture ... more irrigation, just boggles the mind. Why are we trying to grow crops in areas where there's no water? And why do we all subsidize it? Keep the water for people and fishes.....
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Jim - Sorry to disagree, but the fact that we've experienced natural climate variability over the ages has absolutely no bearing on anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change. That's like saying that because the sun is up in the sky, the moon can't be there as well. In truth, they're completely independent of each other. (From a visual, if not a gravitational, perspective.) Just so you know, every ... more single major scientific organization on the planet accepts that humans are warming the planet and changing our weather patterns. 97% of our climate scientists agree. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the most respected scientific body in the world, has labeled human-caused climate change "a settled fact." So while the public perception is that climate change is unproven and contentious, that's not the reality in the scientific community. In case you'd like to learn more about climate change and fisheries, here's a link to a climate piece that ran in American Angler a little over a year ago. http://www.castingwest.com/resources/AmericanAngler.pdf
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Every time the El Nino appears we have a drought. I have been through droughts in CA in 77, 89 with each lasting a couple of years. If you look back in history this occurs every 7 to 10 years and yet every time it does everyone acts like it is the first time it ever happened. For those of you who claim mankind started global warming then why were there trees growing in the Arctic long before the industrial ... more revolution. It is a natural cycle. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/arctic-was-once-warmer-covered-trees
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I hear more than a few folks up here suggesting my part of the state might actually see increased precipitation --using it as a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card, which is worrying when you consider how little food we grow up here, and how dependent modern agriculture is on water deliveries to formerly arid regions.
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Most climate models predict that wet regions will grow wetter while dry regions will become dryer - all while the entire country grows hotter. That doesn't bode well for California, or for much of the West. It would be nice if more anglers decided to educate themselves on climate change while there's still time to influence the outcome and protect our rivers and streams. There's a definite link between ... more climate change and drought. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/01/03/3113981/climate-change-water-shortage/
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