Editorials

Saving for when California’s March miracle goes away

Fisherman cast their rods at the Almaden Reservoir in San Jose, after last weekend’s epic rain.
Fisherman cast their rods at the Almaden Reservoir in San Jose, after last weekend’s epic rain. The Associated Press

The snowpack is back and the water is rising. Between last weekend’s storms and this weekend’s forecast, drought-weary California appears to have gotten the March miracle we were all hoping for.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that, between this state’s natural climate and global warming, drought is now perpetually around the corner, and, as usual, people are already beginning to forget that.

So as much as we hate to sound like a broken record – or a dripping faucet – it bears repeating: No, California, you can’t stop conserving water just because we have wet weather.

That’s a hard message to process in the sogginess of this moment. Obviously, the 6 million-plus acre-feet of water recorded Sunday at Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville will make a serious dent in this state’s dry spell.

The on-again, off-again El Niño helped recharge local groundwater and brought the Sierra snowpack to 92 percent of average. Even the state’s hydroelectric turbines are back in business. Who’s going to volunteer for shorter showers when water is being released from Folsom Dam?

Water conservation can’t be just some temporary nice gesture anymore. It has to be a way of life from one end of the state to the other.

But the relief brought by this month’s storms hasn’t extended to all of California. The southern half of the state remains almost as scarily dry as ever, and the San Joaquin Valley’s overdrafted groundwater tables haven’t recovered by a long shot.

That has left state water officials in a tricky spot, message-wise, as half the state braces for another red-hot summer while the other half shakes its umbrellas and cancels those drought-tolerant hedges, demanding an end to last year’s mandatory water cutbacks.

The chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, Felicia Marcus, told The Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Sabalow, Mark Glover and Dale Kasler this week that if the wet weather continues, the state may further ease or even lift some of those conservation mandates. We understand the need to maintain credibility and to abide by the legal limits of a statewide crisis that may turn out to be more regional by the time the water board’s current emergency authority expires in May.

But we hope Marcus and other officials will continue to stress the point that one wet season doesn’t solve this problem. Water conservation can’t be just some temporary nice gesture anymore; it has to be a way of life here, from one end of the state to the other. Otherwise, we’ll be right back where we started when this March miracle goes away.

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