Eeyore’s Cabinet: Drought

Victor Davis Hanson // Private Papers

To balance “Optimism, Inc.”, I offer occasional gloomy reflections on these revolutionary times. 

The magic of drought and fire in California.

Drought, drought, drought…

California did OK in March with rain and snow. It seemed for a brief moment as if the ongoing drought might end. Temperatures were below normal. The 6-7 feet of new snow in the Sierra offered hope. We thought there would be more storms, more of such “March miracles”. 

Then nada. Not a cloud followed during the last month. Temperatures returned to normal. The snow is all but melted. The rain never returned. There are rarely “April miracle” storms.

A new administration in Washington greenlighted rather than resisted Gavin Newsom’s radically green agenda of envisioning snowmelt as a way to restore 19th-century California rivers and the delta—and not so much as water for irrigation, lake recreation, and hydroelectric power.

So farmers will pump 24/7 for the next year. Their costs will soar. The water table will continue to drop. The public will ignore the slight increase in food prices—small compared to the gas and housing inflation. And we will get one year closer to The Reckoning. 

That day to come is when millions of farmed acres below Stockton will go out of production. The water deliveries of the California Water Project will be assigned solely to suburban sprawl. And the West Side will return to that of my youth, where tumble weeds, coyotes, sparse grazing, and Valley Fever were its trademarks.

The central Eastern Side where I live persists due to its proximity to the Sierra, the 19th-century delivery systems from the San Joaquin and Kings Rivers, and its centuries of stored water in natural aquifers. 

But increased population, diversions of river water to the sea, and the end to third-tier reservoir construction to trap flood waters in wet years have conspired to curtail deliveries. So everyone here now pumps too. The curious 4-inch well in the yard—140 years old—went dry 5 years at 50 feet. The “new” house well my grandfather drilled in the 1960s at 120 feet began sputtering and pumping sand 4 years ago, as I had kept dropping the bowls to 60, 80, and finally 100 feet. 

Four years ago I said “no mas”, and drilled a 440-foot, gravel-pack, 8-inch well overkill, and set the bowls at 150 feet. The water table is somewhere around 100 feet and dropping 3-5 feet a year. 

You get the picture: A growing California. More claims on its water. More green restrictions of the use of mountain run-off. Refusals to build reservoirs. We are reaching the limits of water conservation with computerized new water-saving drip systems. Something has to give. 

The state believes it doesn’t need the middle classes. Farming is passé. Silicon Valley and its 5-trillion-dollars in market capitalization and the upper, upper professional classes will pay the necessary taxes. Family farmers have mostly disappeared in the state. Farms themselves will too in 20 years, at least in the western Central Valley. The population knows nothing about how it gets its food or why it is so cheap—in the manner of its ignorance of where its gasoline and heating and air conditioning derive. The progressive classes are going to have a Rendezvous soon with reality. The enemy is not “conservatives” but truth, nature, and the age of old struggle to live one more day.

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