It has not rained in Las Vegas for over a record 247 consecutive days.
This has been the third driest year in Northern California since at least the 1870s.
The pace of wildfires in California is ahead of 2020 when a record 10.1 million acres burned.
The dismal snowpack on the Stanislaus River Basin – the third lowest in 115 years – is healthier than virtually every other watershed in the state.
The state’s power providers are scrambling to find other electricity sources as hydroelectric generation is expected to fall to almost nothing as the summer drags on.
Given all that, the best Governor Gavin Newsom can muster is to ask people to voluntarily reduce water 15 percent?
Newsom can’t even bring himself to simply declare a drought emergency in the Los Angeles Basin and San Diego even though the science – read that the USDA drought monitor – has determined they are in extreme and severe drought respectively.
The science is simple. There haven’t been local water resources adequate enough to cover the annual needs of Los Angeles-San Diego for more than 70 years. As for natural drought conditions, measurements of regional rain and snow show the two areas are in just as bad shape as the rest of us north of the Tehachapi Mountains.
Yet the best Newsom can muster is a weak lesson in water procurement by noting those areas might want to keep in mind they rely on imported water from other areas that he has been astute enough to put under the umbrella of being in a drought emergency.
All of this coming from a governor who had no qualms responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by putting the California economy into lockdown ahead of the rest of the nation in response to a clear and present danger supported by science.
Where is Jerry Brown when you need him?
Brown handled the last drought with much more decisiveness. Perhaps as a more astute student of the nuances that make California what it is, he declared a statewide drought emergency and issued a mandatory 15 percent cut in water use.
Brown understood a spigot in Los Angeles, sprinklers irrigating vast estate lawns in Beverly Hills, and a hose filling a swimming pool in San Diego all suck water from out-of-basin reservoirs hundreds of miles away. These are reservoirs that grow our food, are critical for people who actually live in the water basin being raided, and are needed for minimal river flows to keep fish alive.
It’s easy to blame it on Newsom playing recall politics. After all, the bulk of the voters are in Southern California and one mustn’t upset them with mandatory water conversation given a recall election coming on Sept. 14.
The chances that recall politics aren’t behind his tepid, inadequate, and borderline irresponsible approach to the growing drought emergency is about as high as an ice cube lasting an hour on the pavement in Death Valley in July.
Brown did have the unfortunate luxury of being governor in 1975-76 when a drought caught California completely off-guard.
While there were 15 million less Californians in 1975, per capita water consumption was significantly higher. Water conversation for most Californians back then was an alien concept.
It got so bad, so quick that measures like an emergency water pipeline being placed on the shoulder of the San Rafael Bridge to keep Marin County livable were commonplace. Had the drought been more than a two-year affair it would have had dire consequences.
Newsom is either a closet climate change denier or is playing politics with California’s most basic need for the state to exist.
Not only has there been no additional water storage built to capture more excess precipitation in wet years but since the last drought that ended just four years ago wildfires have exploded.
Add to the fact the already stressed forests and wild lands are still recovering from the last drought are getting hit with a double whammy of a new drought.
And, in case the governor hasn’t noticed, it takes a lot of water to fight fires.
There is also the issue of a high potential for a third dry year in 2022.
It is more than prudent to cutback to conserve what water we can this year. That includes Southern California where they stockpiled excess water in recent normal and wet years that they took from the Sacramento River Basin, Owens Valley, and the Colorado River.
Newsom needs to make it clear he wants to be a governor and not a political hack setting the stage to try and grab a bigger brass ring such as the White House.
He can start by:
• Declaring a statewide drought emergency.
• Mandating all California cities reduce water use by 15 percent.
• Suspending most of the environmental review for the off-stream Sites Reservoir to move toward getting it in place by before the next drought to capture water in wet years to help fish, cities, and farms.
• Diverting budget surpluses to irrigation districts that have inadequately lined canals or better yet to replace irrigation canals with pipe and closed irrigation systems.
• Ordering the replacement of decorative lawns with drought resistant landscaping on all properties controlled by all levels of government in California.
• Issuing an executive order barring all new non-residential construction from planting decorative lawns.
• Prohibiting any new homes being built in California from having a lawn area in their front yard and instead have drought tolerant landscaping.
• Sweetening cash incentives per square feet with state money dollar for dollar that local jurisdictions offer as an incentive for existing homeowners to replace existing turf with landscaping that is water miserly.
• Shutting down all ornamental fountains immediately.
• Using part of the surplus to develop desalinization plants to serve Los Angeles and San Francisco.
• Funding local projects on a large scale to use treated wastewater for irrigation for public areas such as parks, schools, and golf courses and even private landscaping in area that it makes sense or inject that same treated wastewater into underground basins.
Perhaps what is disappointing the most about Newsom’s milquetoast approach to this drought that is occurring on his watch is how the issues are very clear to justify decisive action as opposed at the start of the pandemic where everyone was scrambling to get a handle on COVID-19.
Real leaders do what is right even if it is unpopular.
Newsom understood that in March of 2020.
But now the governor is playing politics with the very lifeblood of California.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.