Terry McAteer: Postcard from SoCal — What drought?
We’ve all read recently about the north coast town of Mendocino going dry, but most have probably not read or heard that Southern California has no water restrictions in place. We’ve seen photos of Lake Oroville, Shasta and Folsom looking like moonscapes, while SoCal reservoirs in fact are brimming with water.
You must be asking yourself: “How can Northern California be in a drought when Southern California is swimming with water?”
Recently while on a four-day trip to SoCal visiting the Padres, Angels and Dodgers ballparks, I came to realize that the current California drought does not exist in the Southland. Irrigation sprinklers along the highway were chugging out water in mid-day. Nowhere did I see in any hotel rooms a notice of water restrictions. Water was provided at every meal. Worst of all, I quizzed scores of residents unaware of any drought conditions, who had not seen photos of a dry Lake Oroville, or had read about Mendocino’s plight.
Sure, a drought exists, and sure, Southern California is going to be affected, but SoCal water agencies over the past decade have foreseen this current drought while we in Northern California have done little.
Southern California water agencies (mainly the Department of Water and Power and the Metropolitan Water District) have been professing water conservation for years, and Southern California residents have heeded the message. Their water usage per capita is down 40% since 1970.
Moreover, Southern California water agencies have increased their water storage by a whopping 13 times more capacity than they had back in 1990. Take, for example, Lake Perris reservoir, a large artificial lake that provides drinking water to San Bernardino and Riverside counties, two of the largest counties in California. Lake Perris is nearly full.
Lake Skinner, Lake Matthews and Diamond Valley Lake, in the dry hills southeast of Los Angeles, are all sitting at about 80% capacity.
Furthermore, most public irrigation in the Southland is being provided by water systems using recycled water.
Southern California’s cities, unlike their counterparts to the north, have built up huge reserves through a century of building aqueducts and reservoirs and storing water in underground aquifers during wetter years.
We in the northern part of the state have not collectively been practicing water conservation, have not added to our water storage capacity, and have been falsely relying on Mother Nature to provide her annual rainfall.
We have cursed for years that our water has traveled south, but we’ve not paid much attention to our own water needs while our big brother to the south has been storing and conserving the precious commodity. We are the ones who have been caught with our pants down.
This is not meant at all to point fingers at NID, which has a large storage system and is better off than most water agencies, but collectively at Northern Californians who have relied on Mother Nature and kept their heads in the sand as climate change advanced.
Terrry McAteer resides in Grass Valley and is a retired Nevada County superintendent of schools.
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