Keep breathing, California. You can do this.

A year ago, I wrote a piece urging calm in the face of California’s extreme drought:

The thing to remember – and this’ll help you get through the tough year ahead – is that drought is no one big thing. It’s a series of little things – one water user, one water system at a time. That’s how you’re going to get through this. If you focus on “zero” you’re screwed. Think about who’s actually going to be short of water, and what they’re going to do about it.

It wasn’t easy, some real tough times, especially for Central Valley farmers, but Californians showed their resourcefulness and adaptability with what I think I will call Fleck’s Law: “When people have less water, they use less water.”

I’ve been meaning to write an update, but Jay Lund has done far better than I could.

This year, with another dreadful snowpack, the hair-on-fire rhetoric has amped up a notch, but Lund (way smarter, with way more standing and history in California water management than I) has done a great service with this calm explanation of what is really happening, and what needs to be done:

There is need for concern, preparation and prudence, but little cause for panic, despite some locally urgent conditions….

California will not run out of water this year, or next, if we are careful. We will respond mostly as we did last year, with some modest changes.

In rough order of importance, California will make up most of this year’s water shortage by:

Additional groundwater withdrawals of perhaps 5 million or more acre-feet

  • Reductions in urban and environmental water uses and agricultural fallowing — totaling perhaps 4 million acre-feet
  • Shifting perhaps 1 millon acre-feet of water use from lower to higher economic values through water markets
  • Depleting reservoir storage by perhaps 1-2 million acre-feet
  • Increasing wastewater reuse and other conservation efforts

If you are concerned about California’s drought, Jay’s piece is a good dose of realism in the midst of the crazy talk we’re hearing right now. You can do this, California.

One Comment

  1. I really like Fleck’s Law.

    This will be a severe drought year for California and will cause a lot of pain, but its effect on total employment and total state GDP will be within the levels of error in these statistics. The developed world rarely has droughts anymore which cause famine, pestilence, and forced migrations on a large scale.

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