Editor’s Note: This editorial opinion originally ran in the print and online editions of City on a Hill Press under the headline “Rain Dance Required.” Upon further reflection, the City on a Hill Press editorial board has decided the original title was not appropriate to the piece, and could potentially be offensive to our readers. City on a Hill Press apologizes for this oversight, and would be happy to hear and publish readers’ thoughts or concerns, which can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite the appeal of the mid-winter summer, where Santa Cruzans can play beach volleyball in bathing suits and make Panther Beach an off-season destination as well, Californians should think about the implications of the absence of rain.
The unseasonably lovely weather and drought go hand in hand. In an area like Santa Cruz, which relies almost entirely on reservoirs, lack of rainfall means lack of replenishment for our water source.
In years like this one, when precipitation levels are not where they need to be this late in the season, rainfall will catch up over a shorter period of time. While this looks good on paper — because yearly rainfall averages are almost reached — it does not mean that drought woes are mitigated. When rainfall occurs in violent spurts, the reservoirs and watersheds that need replenishing cannot retain the water, leaving those who depend on them still in threat of drought.
The dry year is not exclusively a concern for the Santa Cruz area; the lack of rain is plaguing the entire state. According to the U.S. drought monitor, numerous regions of California are experiencing D0 (abnormally dry) conditions and the dryness is greatly impacting areas vital to water provision.
“California’s key watershed and agricultural areas received little or no precipitation,” the report stated.
Despite this fact, the report assured that reservoir storage is not yet a concern for California, because there is still more winter to come and the reservoirs and snow melt have a chance yet to build back up.
D0 and D1 (moderate drought) conditions characterize regions in California and similarly, locations such as Salinas and Fresno set December records for dryness.
“Not a single drop of precipitation fell in Eureka, Nevada, and Fresno during December for the first time since 1989,” the U.S. Drought Monitor reported. “Reno experienced its first completely dry December since 1883.”
In their first survey of the season, which occurred at the beginning of January, the Department of Water Resources reported “snowpack water content throughout the Sierra at 19 percent of the average for early January,” as reported in a San Francisco Chronicle article.
One-third of California’s water supply is provided through snowfall.
Apparently water managers are not panicking yet, as department director Mark Cowin stated that “most the winter is ahead of us.”
Maybe inciting panic in California is not the best idea, but state residents should be aware of the actual implications of dry years like this.
When the department puts ear muffs on Californians, sparing them from the harsh realities that tough dry years leave us with, it keeps state residents blissfully wasteful and dangerously ignorant to facts that dramatically impact our lives.
The impacts on water provision could unequivocally would be better mitigated with better water conservation throughout the state, and that needs to begin with a more honest rendition of the state of California water supply.
Santa Cruz city residents use 66 gallons of water per person per day. Compared to the 150 gallons used per person per day statewide, it’s the lowest per capita use in California. If the entire state could make changes to get closer to that figure, we would be insuring a more sustainable future in the face of widespread drought.