Brian Hamilton: What are we doing waiting for a rainy day? | TheUnion.com

Brian Hamilton: What are we doing waiting for a rainy day?

Though I'm sure there's more at work here than just wishful thinking, there seems to be a trend with the 15-day forecast on my phone.

Today, the first 14 days showed sunny skies with zero chance of precipitation. But then, on the final of the 15 days, we see a 10 percent chance, inspiring hope for some sort of precip — of course, only to be dashed the following day with a "new" forecast.

It's a pattern that seemed to also persist throughout the drought, which I fear never really ended.

Oh, I know. Last year's winter was one for the record books, with heavy rain and snow saturating the Sierra and its foothills for months. That led the governor to declare the drought over last April, three years after he ordered a drought emergency in 2014, which included mandatory conservation orders for the first time in state history.

Does above-average water storage mean there’s no danger of drought or no need to conserve, until it’s ordered by the state through a declaration?

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At long last, we were in the clear … right?

This week Nevada Irrigation District surveys showed the region's snowpack currently contains 33 percent of average water content. Statewide, the Department of Water Resources pegged the number at just 24 percent of average. But with full reservoirs and a slim chance of more wet weather in weeks ahead, officials aren't yet ready to declare a return to drought.

Maybe it's the Midwesterner in me, but I guess I don't fully understand what constitutes a drought.

Sure, our snowpack isn't as small as when the governor announced the drought emergency — just 5 percent of normal statewide in April of 2014 — but it seems we're headed back in that direction. And it sure seemed shortsighted to lift conservation requirements way back in March 2016, well ahead of last year's extremely wet winter.

A study released at that time suggested that "even if the state receives above-average amounts of rain and snow for the next few years, the snowpack will not replenish to its pre-drought levels until 2019."

And, quite clearly, 2018 isn't shaping up as an "above-average" year of rain and snow.

"Any declaration of the drought being over would be irresponsible and it is premature to declare water conservation no longer necessary," The Union's editorial board wrote in 2016. "After all, just in the first quarter of the year, we've seen extreme changes in weather patterns. Although January brought heavy rains and the 'March Miracle' of storms helped bolster the snowpack, February saw record heat and prolonged dry spells."

With weather patterns out of whack, we can't help but wonder what the "new normal" actually means.

"We have enough water in storage from Lake Tahoe in the Truckee River flow," Senior Hydrologist Bill Hauck of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority told the Nevada Appeal on Monday. "We have extensive reservoirs in the area to help us with two summers."

But what about the summer after that? And then the next? Shouldn't we continue conserving for a not-so rainy day?

Does above-average water storage mean there's no danger of drought or no need to conserve, until it's ordered by the state through a declaration? Try telling that to a homeowner digging his second, or third, well. Or a farmer whose irrigation water is drastically cut back when the emergency drought reductions are eventually ordered.

As the San Jose Mercury News reported, the last time there was so little snow in the Sierra was January 2015, when it was 25 percent of average.

"By April 1 that year — after the snowpack had shrunk to an all-time low of 5 percent of average — Gov. Jerry Brown stood in a barren, rocky field in the mountains near Lake Tahoe and declared a drought emergency that included mandatory statewide water restrictions for the first time in California history."

Brown urged Californians to cut water use 25 percent and to "pull together and save water in every way possible."

At this point, while feeling a sense of guilt in enjoying the warm weather, I can't help but wonder what we're waiting for.

Contact Editor Brian Hamilton at bhamilton@theunion.com or 530-477-4249.