Fight the drought just as if we were going to war

February 3, 2014 

This is possibly the worst drought since European explorers first discovered California in the 1500s. Like Juan Cabrillo, Sebastián Vizcaíno and Francis Drake, we are entering uncharted waters and seeing a strange new world. We haven’t been here before, as our cities and farms might not have enough water to make it even one more year.

Unless we have successive storms of diluvial proportions, we are clearly in trouble.

The few dams we have are holding a small fraction of their capacity, as we have experienced three consecutive dry years, with 2013 being the worst in the history of record keeping. Our state’s population has almost tripled since most of these dams were built. If we had only created some new ones since then at least we would have expanded our cumulative water supply. But we haven’t.

This dwindling of supplies is why the State Water Project announced 0 percent water allocations for farmers this year. That has never happened before. Allocations of federal water out of the Central Valley Project will likely be the same.

Our rivers will surely dry up, as little water will be released from dams since there is a scanty snowpack to replace it. This means our ability to utilize riparian water for cities and water districts will not exist. The only option left will be to increase pumping from underground aquifers, and these water levels and its quality have been seriously declining for years.

So the choices will be to pump underground water until the wells go dry, or learn to live with much less water while producing a lot less food. This has huge ramifications, as California feeds at least one-fourth of our nation. We would like to feed ourselves, let alone exporting food to other states and nations.

This is coming at a time when most Americans are already in hard times and unable to buy food for their families, without a catastrophic drought added into the equation.

Although it won’t help this year, California must build new water storage. And it must be done quickly, with the urgency of a war or a national emergency.

We should scrap all other projects like the twin tunnels out of the Delta and the bullet train, as water storage should be our No. 1 priority. The governor and Legislature should be fast-tracking the construction of dams and forgetting about transgender toilets in our public schools and facilities. Where will the water come from to flush them anyway?

Moreover, we may want to rethink about flushing some 75 percent of our precious water out to the ocean for the welfare of fish and the Bay.

As a state, we always find the money to throw into the wind. These new dams would help recharge our groundwater aquifers, feed our rivers and supplement the larger environment. Why can’t we accomplish this task? We have computers and machines that they didn’t have with earlier dam construction.

It’s purely a matter of will and determination. The politicians and environmentalists must put aside their ancillary distractions and opposition. We must develop the water to provide for our needs. It must be done.

Michelena is a Patterson-area farmer who served as a visiting editor at The Bee in 2009. Send questions or comments to columns@modbee.com.

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