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More people, less snow can add up to California disaster
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Clear skies are spelling trouble for California.

No significant rain or snow is on the horizon for at least another two weeks.

On Tuesday, drivers crossing Donner Summit saw conditions more in tune with early May instead of early February. That was underscored by Golden West Meteorology declaration on Tuesday that this is the worst year ever on record when it comes to lack of snow at Donner Summit.

There is a 12-inch snowpack at Norden. Normal snowpack is 69 inches in early February.

Meanwhile, down in the valley there are people who never shut off their automatic sprinklers for the winter even on grass such as Bermuda that turns yellow and goes dormant in the cold.

By all accounts, this is a historically bad winter in terms of precipitation.

It is much worse than any winter at the height of the mid-1970s drought when cities seriously considered stopping construction, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District banned the filling of manmade lakes, water cops in the Southland issued $100 tickets for gutter flooding, exposed reservoir bottoms looked like scorched and cracked earth in the Australian outback, and Marin County residents were told “yellow is mellow” in a bid to get them to only flush toilets when it absolutely was necessary.

Back in the mid-1970s California had some 21 million residents. Today we have 38 million residents.

Do the math. Less snow plus more people equals big problem.

Many Californians are blissfully ignorant where their water comes from that flows from their taps. It either comes from underground aquifers that aren’t bottomless pits as water levels continue to drop or is imported from somewhere else in the state.

And for 25 million Californians that “somewhere else” is the vast federal Central Valley Water Project and its kissing cousin the State Water Project. Both feed off the snowpack in the Sierra and Cascades.

Most people live in cities in California that can’t be supported by any stretch of the imagination with local water sources. Coastal urban thirst has been quenched for over a century by diverting water from distant mountains. The same is true of the vast farms that comprise the Central Valley. It is water brought from hundreds of miles away that transformed the valley into the world’s highest producing agricultural region.

The California Dream would be nothing more than a mirage if it wasn’t for the state’s vast water works. The same is true for much of the Western United States.

Given what is at stake as water sources become more precarious with every passing dry day, one would think leaders in all corners of California would be sounding the alarm.

But doing so would risk the wrath of Californians who believe they are entitled to essentially squander water as they choose.

And when the free flowing water slows down to a trickle, fingers will be pointed at the usual suspects - farmers and environmentalists.

It’s ironic given the fact farmers have to watch all expenses - including water - in order to make a living. As such, most tend to use water frugally. As for environmentalists insisting on certain levels to sustain ecological systems, they have a point. You can’t keep fish alive without water.

We need to take steps to curb our water consumption as much as possible now and not later. If things improve tremendously in spring, then we can relax our guard. But to do nothing means we will simply dig ourselves into a rather dry hole.

Water isn’t something you can import from China or manufacture in your backyard.

It needs to be treated like the precious commodity it is especially given the warning signs Mother Nature is sending that this may be a year when we may get to see just how low reservoirs in California can go.

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.