California’s water battles continue despite record rain and snow
On Monday, California water officials slogged through deep snow 7,000 feet above sea level, west of Lake Tahoe, to affirm what everyone already knew: A series of Pacific storms has generated record-level amounts of precipitation, filling reservoirs, inundating low-lying towns and fields and threatening more disastrous flooding as the Sierra snowpack melts.
Its negative aspects aside, the immense amount of rain and snow is welcome relief from drought that has plagued the state for the past three years. But it also is a warning about California’s boom-and-bust precipitation cycle, which is becoming more pronounced with climate change.
It’s a warning that we must do a better job of capturing and conserving water when precipitation is plentiful, because the next drought is just around the corner. That means building more storage, such as the long-delayed Sites Reservoir on the west side of the Sacramento Valley, creating more sinking basins to replenish overdrafted underground aquifers and, most importantly, doing something about the chaotic way in which we manage water.
California has been a state for 173 years and its residents have been squabbling over water for its entire history, beginning with conflicts between gold miners and pioneer farmers. Battles have been waged in the Legislature, in the courts and in ballot measures, but they have succeeded mostly in making water management increasingly obtuse.
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