Man-made climate change is not the source of California’s water woes.
I guarantee that some people will read those 11 words and dismiss anyone who utters them as a climate change denier or at least a member of the Flat Earth Society.
But the science and history is absolutely clear that when it comes to our water supply we are basing our solutions on the wrong facts.
The biggest lake in California just 170 years ago — Tulare Lake — no longer exists. It covered an area that was larger than Clear Lake — the largest body of water self-contained in California — and even drawfed Lake Tahoe that straddles the California-Nevada border.
Early in the 20th century before Los Angeles sucked it almost dry, Owens Lake was 12 miles long, 8 miles wide with water depth ranging from 23 to 50 feet covering 108 square miles.
Tulare Lake did not disappear because of man-made climate change nor did Owens Lake dry up because of it. It had to do with urbanization policies, agricultural practices, and raw power politics practiced by today’s environmental bastions in San Francisco and Los Angeles that equate every water woe in California that they don’t attribute to man-made climate change or farming.
The premise that man-made climate change is not the real issue lies in hardcore science with a measurable history. Carbon dating has been done of tree stumps found at the bottom of Lake Tahoe and the twisty Bristlecone Pines of the White Mountains that are the oldest living things on earth with some still living after 5,000 years. The rings of those trees reveal a lot about weather patterns in the Western United States that dates back much farther than the limited 170 years we have of recorded weather data.
Tree rings grow as moisture allows. A wetter year means more robust tree rings. Drought means little or no growth.
Scientists have determined that a 200-year stretch that covers virtually the entire period the western United States was settled and developed was abnormally wet. Tree rings even in the damp Pacific Northwest show mega-droughts stretching for 500 years often with 50-year dry stretches broken up by several years of normal or above normal precipitation before super dry conditions resumed.
It was during the time of abnormally wet years that virtually all dams in California were built with hydrologists using recorded rain and snow data at the time a project was conceived to determine the yield of various watersheds in terms of what reservoirs could yield for water management for wildlife, urban uses and farming. That’s why even before modern day droughts hit very few major water projects could deliver what was promised in terms of acre feet of water.
Given that extremely dry conditions are the norm it is foolish to fashion solutions to assure adequate water for civilization in the future on reducing the impacts of man-made climate change that is minuscule compared to erroneous assumptions that set development patterns based on created water storage as well as extremely short-sighted water use decisions that were made to prop up mega-growth in the Los Angeles Basin, San Francisco Bay Area, and even mega-agriculture.
Natural climate change exists. The dramatic ice carved Yosemite and Hetch Hetchy valleys fashioned over several glacial periods are proof of that. There is also man-made climate change. Whether man can move the needle as much and some contend as opposed to one major volcanic explosion is a legitimate debate. What is not legitimate is investing heavily in solutions aimed at slowing down or reversing climate change when it comes to our water supply in California given the by far larger drain is simply how we civilized the state based in assumptions we made during an abnormally wet era on the Western United States.
People need to live somewhere. They need to eat food that farmers grow. We need to protect the environment.
But before we go off too deep in any solution, it should be noted things such as the volume of unimpaired flows on the Stanislaus, Merced, and Tuolumne rivers that the state is pushing for would not be a likely occurrence on an annual basis if Mother Nature were left up to her own devices. And certainly during mega-droughts such flows the state is striving for would be wishful thinking at best.
Even without nearly 40 million humans the fish population would have retreat significantly during droughts and so would the once plentiful California Grizzly if we didn’t kill it off 90 years ago.
Whether we like it or not the survival of fish as well as cities and farms are dependent on dams and how we manage water.
The future of all three — fish, people, and the farming people need to live — depends on water management whether it creating off-line storage such as the Sites Reservoir primarily for fish flows, recharging aquifers in wet years, or further fine tuning our water use and conservation.
Requiring all new home developments in urbanized California not to have front lawns regardless of how wealthy the occupant is a much more cost effective and efficient way to address water needs than some of the proposed multi-billion dollar solutions based on man-made climate change.
Front yards also need to disappear when an existing house is sold and before it closes escrow. The value of water guzzling green grass to look at as opposed to water for fish, to grow food or for people to drink and flush their toilets is extremely dubious.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.