The state’s first protracted drought occurred in 1868 and lingered on until 1872 or 1873. The west side of the San Joaquin Valley suffered most. There the wheat crop was a total loss in 1870 and 1871, and by the fall of the latter year the parched valley had turned to dust…. [B]anks foreclosed on mortgages; and the state’s newspapers reported on an abundant crop of irrigation schemes designed to render California immune from nature’s capricious cycles.
That’s from Donald Pisani’s 1984 history of California irrigation. Amazing echoes of 2014 show up on page after page of this book.