Getting Out Of A Drought Is Easier Than Getting In


Everyone in California is excited. All the signs point to a strong El Nino winter. El Nino’s usually (not always) mean more wintertime rain and snow in California. We need water. Supplies are running very low.

First, a few truths. What falls in Los Angeles, Palm Springs or Irvine means little! Some of it might enter the system, but we are primarily set up to harvest snow. None of those places get snow.

Our most efficient collection comes from spring runoff, meaning most of SoCal’s drinking water starts someplace else. The Coachella Valley mainly taps the Colorado River. Our drinking water’s watershed is hundreds of miles away in states that don’t even border California.

For Los Angeles and environs, water is transported via aqueduct from the Owens Valley at the base of the Sierras, also hundreds of miles away.

I’m not sure there’s any place in Southern California that’s naturally suitable for even a fraction of its current population density. The only answer is water from afar. It’s our pact with the devil. Even the most environmentally friendly of us uses more than SoCal can deliver.

As bad as this drought is (very bad), it’s absolutely wrong to look at how many inches below normal we are as a meaningful number. Water systems aren’t set up to need normal conditions. Water supplies must be over-engineered to provide cushion for bad years.

Normal precipitation supplies more water than we actually need. We don’t have to make up the entire deficit inch-for-inch.

I can’t find any specifics on how much precipitation is needed for positive inflow, but my suspicion is the bar is lower than people think.

Here’s my semi-educated guess. An average year’s rain would likely put us where we were two or more years ago, not where we stood last August.

What’s taken us seven years of mainly bad precipitation won’t need anywhere that long to recover.

So, I welcome El Nino with open arms and hope he doesn’t bring the usual ‘extras’ — flooding and landslides. Everything good in California has a price.

2 thoughts on “Getting Out Of A Drought Is Easier Than Getting In”

  1. All the signs are there for a strong El-Nino this fall and winter it seems. Normally winter is wet and mild in the USA during El-Nino years.

    In the NY/NJ/CT area this summer has been HOT and DRY big time. Bridgeport hot 90 F again yesterday and Central Park hit 95 F (12 90 F + days so far this summer). The grass is really like straw. The heat loving plants like the azaleas and Yuccas seem to love the heat. In fact, I’ve actually started to grow cactus here on the Connecticut shore (Opuntia humifusa). I didn’t know this was a native cactus to the Tri-State area. However, there is some downside in the garden – the hydrangeas look really weak right now.

  2. Of course over here we worry about snow. As I recall the last El Nino years we ended up with big blizzards at the end of the season (’97/’98 was one of those winters I think). Not exactly what I’m looking for in a forecast.
    Wish we had a way of shipping our excess snow West to you folks. Would save us dumping it in empty parking lots.

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