The Drought: California Apocalypto

by Victor Davis Hanson // PJ Media

Gov. Jerry Brown, center, answers a question concerning the executive order he signed requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels, at Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Gov. Jerry Brown, center, answers a question concerning the executive order he signed requiring the state water board to implement measures in cities and towns to cut water usage by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels, at Echo Summit, Calif., Wednesday, April 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

The proverbial thin veneer of civilization has never been thinner in California, as if nature has conspired to create even greater chaos than what man here has already wrought. What follows below was a fairly typical seven-day period in the land of the highest sales, fuel, and income taxes that have led to the nearly worst freeways, schools, and general infrastructure in the nation.

I recently came home from an out-of-state trip. Something was wrong: I noticed off in the distance a strange geyser at the top of the hill. Vandals had apparently earlier taken sledgehammers to the pump’s four-inch plastic fittings — all to scavenge two brass valves (recycle value of about $20).

The fools did not know the pump was even on. When they smashed open the plastic pipes the spurting water apparently drenched them, and so they left their self-created mess. (No, criminals here do not know how to turn off a pump.) The ensuing deluge of several hours had ripped a three-foot-deep gully for about 20 yards.

I’ve lost count of how many pumps have been vandalized over the last decade. Some people play golf after work and weekends, but out here the pastime is to drive out to the countryside to wreck things for a few dollars of copper and bronze. It reminds me of the Ottomans in Greece, who pried off the lead seals over the iron clamps that had held together the marble blocks of ancient Greek temples and walls. The Turks, who could make little but scavenge a lot, got their few ounces of lead for bullets. In the exchange, the exposed iron marble clamps rusted and fell apart, ruining the antiquities that had theretofore survived 2,000 years of natural wear and tear. One civilization builds and invests, quite a different one destroys and consumes.

Four days earlier, three people (a male and two females) had parked nearby at the neighbor’s abandoned house. It was said not to meet California’s codes and thus was condemned, though the dwelling is far better built than are the occupied shacks and trailers across the street with various goats, chickens, geese, sheep, and cows grazing between the houses. In any case, the vandals were kicking in the sheet rock to rip out Romex wire (perhaps $5 worth of recyclable wire per ruined wall). I tried to catch them, but by the time I got to the truck and drove back out after them, they were speeding out of the alleyways with impunity.

When these things happen, no one calls the sheriff, the insurance company, or any authority. The problem is so ubiquitous, and the old civilized infrastructure so ossified, that it is impossible to address the vandalism and chronic violation of civilization’s basic tenets.

I think that we’ve come full circle in California: from the premodern Wild West of the 19th century to a decadent postmodernism that is every bit as feral [1], though the roughness of ascension is always preferable to its counterpart in decline. The day before Easter, Sacramento tried to stage the world’s largest public Easter egg hunt. From news reports [2] it seems quickly to have devolved into a Darwinian free-for-all, where the ochlos [3] swarmed the few who played by the rules.

After shutting the pump off, I drove back into the yard. That night the most miserable canine creature imaginable limped into the yard — a beaten bloody female dog dumped on the road.

This is a common occurrence in rural California: when dogs go into heat or become too expensive to feed or can no longer perform in backyard dog-fights, their peeved owners drive out of town, pull up to a rural house, and toss the dog out the car window.

We cleaned the creature up, and are trying to nurse it back to life to join our other dogs — who themselves were once throwaways.

After fixing the broken pipes, the pump ironically went dry the next day.

The well is a respectable 245 feet, but the submersible pump is set at 80 feet. The water table has fallen from 52 to 79 feet in a year, as the absence of surface water for four years has forced everyone to pump 24/7 to keep orchards and vineyards alive. (In the past, we’ve gone 10 years in a row without turning on a pump, given the irrigation district’s normal deliveries out of Pine Flat Reservoir — in the age before fish and scenic river restoration.) Water is taken out of the ground, but none is percolating back down. We forget that the logic of the Sierra snow runoff was to fill valley ponds and canals, whose storage water trickled down and replenished the aquifer, which farmers rarely had a need to tap through pumping.

I am on a list to have the dry agricultural pump lowered to 130 feet. Right now, there is a scramble for pump installers and well drillers. Daily, homes and farms go dry as the aquifer plunges. A paradox emerges in Central and Southern California: unlike the foothills, the Sierra, the coastal corridor, the West Side, and the Coast Range, there is a vast aquifer beneath the San Joaquin Valley, at least for about 10 miles on either side of the 99 freeway. The railroad men of the 19th century whose rails the freeway follows knew where water for their steam engines was plentiful.

For the near future, the problem is not running out of water per se, but rather the wild sauve-qui-peut [4] mentality of deeper wells, bigger pumps, and larger power bills, and who can get an overbooked well driller or pump installer first. But then the current water chaos is not so different from driving the State 99 [5] or trying to visit the DMV.

On the evening news, the governor announced a 25% reduction in state water usage. A wise move — but still at this late date, mostly a symbolic gesture after a half-century of state madness [6] that saw (1) the state’s population soar from 20 to 40 million people, (2) the envisioned second- and third-phase reservoirs of various California water projects all cancelled, (3) and several million acre feet of stored water before and during the drought released from reservoirs to the ocean for fish and scenic river restoration.

Given that the agricultural pump had gone out, I also checked the house well and pump (it’s one thing to lose a grape crop, quite another to have no drinking water). It was a good thing. The much smaller pump was drawing on only 5 feet of water; so I had it lowered another 20 feet to near the bottom of the well. When the final 20 feet margin of error goes, that domestic well is kaput. But even a small new well for a house requires $30,000, with a six-month to one-year waiting list.

I had thought I would call my son, a history teacher and coach at a local rural school, to have him help me check the wells and to fix the broken fittings on the pump. But he lives in California, too. So, of course, he has his own disasters. An hour before I called, his car was vandalized and window smashed, with the loss of computer, keys, and wallet in broad daylight, the day before Easter in a north Clovis shopping center. He cancelled his credit cards within an hour; too late, the thieves had already used it at a Jack in the Box and gas station.

Do we look for guidance for all this chaos from our governor? The Legislature? The clergy? The UC or CSU campus hierarchy?

I doubt it. Students at UC Berkeley are talking about creating racially segregated “safe spaces.” The second in command at the Fresno Police Department was just arrested for drug trafficking (a $180,000 salary I guess is far too little compensation). And the L.A. mass transit train just had another human-induced collision (where are we going to find enough educated workers to pilot the zooming high-speed rail cars?).

At least the governor recently weighed in on illegal immigration to suggest that those who wanted existing federal immigration laws enforced were “un-Christian” (the governor is now, in Jimmy Swaggart style, habitually deriding those who do not share his ideology as un-Christian [7]).

In the drought finger-pointing, it is now de rigeur to damn “Big Ag,” and to decry the use of water for things like almond trees. But why are almonds less important to our collective lives than are iPhones? Can you eat an app? Drink a search engine?

If one massages statistics and lumps environmental and recreational use of state and federal reservoir water under “agricultural use,” one then can claim that only 4 to 8% of state GNP is generated by agriculture and does not warrant “75%” of our water usage.

But where does “Big Facebook” get its water — if not from far distant water projects? Which is more unnatural, to farm corporate almonds outside of Tranquility where the water table is at 1,000 feet, or to cram millions of people into the arid Bay Area corridor where there is no aquifer to speak of, and thus water must be transferred from the north and east over vast distances to ensure the viability of Big Apple and Big Google?

At least the former elite in farming understand that they must build and maintain reservoirs and that bait fish are more expendable than is food, while the latter elite in theory object to the very infrastructure that in the concrete allows them to live in a most unnatural landscape.

Does anyone realize that the entire California experiment — having 75% of the people live in a Mediterranean climate where 25% of the state’s rain and snow fall — is unnatural and depends on each generation’s ingenuity and industriousness to ensure water, an educated populace, safe freeways, and basic safety and security for the citizenry?

The enervated middle class of California struggles under high taxes, high housing costs, high-cost energy, terrible schools, and high crime. Increasingly it is considering leaving paradise. In our pyramidal state, there is a vast underclass (22% of the state lives below the poverty line, schools are rated 46th in the nation, and one out of three hospital admittances over 35 suffers from diabetes, etc., a disease for whose prevention California rates near last in expenditures). The base of the pyramid is growing, and now represents one in six of all American welfare recipients.

Atop sits the wealthiest 1% elite in the United States, whose capital ensures immunity from the consequences of one’s own ideology — at least up to a point.

After all, Redwood City and East Palo Alto are apparently seen as forcing wealthy white and Asian liberals into private academies in Silicon Valley. Even those who demand higher taxes tend to relocate one “permanent” residence in nearby tax-free Nevada — a potentially disastrous trend, given than only about 160,000 Californians of 40 million residents account for 54% of all state income tax revenue.

Even those in Malibu, Bel Air, and Old Pasadena must use the unusable 405. Even Hetch Hetchy and other water projects cannot supply the Bay Area’s voracious appetite for water.  Putting phase one of high-speed rail down among the yokels of Central California does no good unless it is linked up with a messy, smelly, dirty construction site in the Bay Area.

What nature’s deadly four-year drought is teaching California is that even the liberal aristocracy eventually has a rendezvous with what they created.

All the capital, income, and influence in the state cannot guarantee exemption from their own self-induced chaos. Climbing atop the smokestacks of the sinking Titanic is of little use after you have deprecated the idea of more lifeboats.

Article printed from Works and Days:

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[1] that is every bit as feral:

[2] news reports:

[3] ochlos:

[4] sauve-qui-peut:

[5] the State 99:

[6] a half-century of state madness:

[7] as un-Christian:

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32 thoughts on “The Drought: California Apocalypto”

  1. Kerry Russell

    Perfect analysis of the post-modern infrastructure collapse due to unchecked liberal philosophy. Now the California liberals come to Texas and try to do the same things here in the semi-arid portions of the state (Dallas and Austin areas). The folly is too great to even try it in the western, arid portions of the state. The eastern, high rainfall area of the state is too “redneck” for the liberals to even attempt settlement.

    All this reminds me of what my deceased father said when he came to Texas from California after WW 2. He loved California as a kid but decided to leave when it became too populated for him. He said he hoped he did not live long enough to see it happen to central Texas. Lucky for him he did not.

    1. I will be leaving for Texas at the end of the month, going back to the State my parents came from in 1952- not for the lifestyle but because of Jobs. And yes, I’m heading for DFW because I have two engineering degrees and I need work. The Waco area also holds old family records for generations going back before the Civil War. So I’ll be there to shout down those Libs who want to Blue the State, reminding people of the failed State those Libs presided over and then fled like Rats leaving a sinking ship.

  2. Mr. Hanson, I enjoy reading your posts regarding current events in California, the U.S. and the world. Indeed, as a military history enthusiast myself, I have many of your books in my collection and value them highly.
    Regarding this post on California’s collapse, I couldn’t agree more. I was born and raised in this State and was proud to say I was Californian when anyone asked me where I was from. However, the last 30 years have seen this once proud State be fully taken over by Liberals and their agenda. The results of that takeover are clear and disturbing.
    Just like the drillers who drill deeper into California soil to find the water, and may come up empty, Liberal policies have placed California, itself, on the tip of that drill bit and is auguring in to its final collapse!
    I have recently retired and am in the process relocating to another State. I recently made my way to the Spokane, Washington and was dismayed to discover that Liberals have taken over the government there and as a result taxes are on the rise. A sales tax there is approaching 9%.
    I am now looking at Idaho for my final destination.
    I love California for its natural beauty and what it once was. It pains me to have to leave, but I see no other alternative. It will never come back to what it once was! Sad!

  3. Eric Ligtendag

    Dear mr. Hanson,
    the problems you mention, so to speak, are universal.
    I myself live in a small farm in the Netherlands. As you say, high taxes, high energy costs, high water costs, increasing crime. “Even” in rural Grolloo we had theft and vandalism too. Police did nothing. the DA did nothing. So we worked harder still and financed a high fence with barbed wire around our whole property.
    We got questions like “Do you want to live in Bergen Belsen?” from the municipality. Yes, i answered, like my father who was for four years in Bergen Belsen….
    So my question: how could those criminals reach your pump? Better to fence off with much barbed wire alas.. expensive but not doing it is more expensive in the long run.
    I hope humanity comes to its senses and that the clock will swing back to social common sense…
    As i write this it is still not known here what will happen with Greece. What i know is that Greece is not the real problem… the real problem is Italy, far larger debts. Germany could pay the entire Greece debt if it wanted to.. (240 billion euros, yes quite large..) but does it want to???? I think not.
    And there are the “problems” with Italy, Russia, Hungary,Turkey…
    So “anything can happen”.. it will be interesting.
    Well, my wife Maria and I wish you much strength and power for the coming years. Lets hope that the current drought will get some sense in some political heads.
    Yours truly, Eric Ligtendag

    1. Sad to hear that the Netherlands is experiencing such problems. Are the offenders immigrants? In this article, Dr. Hanson has downplayed the criminal issues he typically experiences. Read this one and see the further indignities of living in a leftist, multicultural world. I am fortunately in Massachusetts where the minority population is quite low still and crime is not really an issue but the progressives are working on changing that.

  4. Always great and poignant writing. I also enjoy hearing you on John Batchelor’s radio show. What a mix of characters and short sighted goals that make up this whole mess. From ultra rich titans to illegal aliens, I see the Democrat riot boot prints all over it.

  5. Gary Westgeest

    Great post, as usual. Don’t know where you get the staying power. But I am grateful that you have it. There is a thick seam of stoicism within you from which you draw a life giving hope for the future, somewhat akin to your wells drawing water. I suppose the hope is that the oppressive progressives will come to their senses and change. But that will not happen. They are committed to their folly, and bad results merely guarantee greater lunacies. The good guys in your country have to wake up and fight hard!

    Good luck in California!

    1. “” Don’t know where you get the staying power… ”’ To give everything one has to a noble cause, My Cup runneth over “” —– The holy alignment fuels the fire


    There are several combined tactical and strategic weather related technologies currently funded and operational through Black-ops sciences that need to be declassified for a comprehensive discussion of California and US water management. I categorize this four broad areas as (a) HAARP, (b) Chemtrails, (c) Klystron Burst Network Management – see “Turning Ordinary Storms into Biblical Floods”- training video, (d) and very complicated:Trans-human nano-bot and biological seeding of Artificial Intelligence with nano bots designed to be absorbed into human blood then turned on by remote frequency activation. Even as these programs may have the potential for good, they seem to be causing huge adverse health issues in humans and in the environment.

    These technologies are all discussed in alternative media including the display and citations of most all the patents issued. They are easy to find and fundamental to understanding part of the solar system wide energy changes observable but not reported. There are for example dust trails observable behind some of the moons of our solar system indicating we seem to have entered a segment of the universe that feeds energy (fuel-dust) into our own Sun. Weather on other planets in solar system is also changing in ways the indicate they give off more energy. All the planets seem to be subjected to some sort of increased energy. The Sun itself and sun spots run on repeated cycles, some of the longest of which occur every 1500+- years. Candor on the importance of sunspot activity is missing in the national dialogue on weather.


    Either we migrate out or we manage water differently. A robust estimate of the agricultural and household needs using a household per capita consumption statistic of 250 gallons per day (Hillsborough, CA very high usage) yields about very sizable 1.7-billion acre feet a year water demand throughout the southwest. This amount does not include environmental demands needed to maintain fishing habitats or refill water basins. A major additional problem is we ship our water out of state as water contained in all ag products. These amounts actually matter. We stupidly allow fracking to pump its crap back into our precious supplies.


    Modern water distillation plants can handle tops about 200,000 households per day rationed below the 250 gallons per person per day.


    Deep water wells below 7,000 meters can reach sub-oceanic level fresh water released from very deep Earth crust that migrates upwards to where it it seems to contained under the impermeable barrier. Drill down to it and you hit a hot gusher of water that peaks out at blow-out rates of around 58,000 barrels per day (5+ acre feet a day). Our deepest wells are mostly Oil Wells down to 15,000 meters. 5+ Acre feet per day of fresh water will serve a small community, but pumping on such a large scale statewide at those depths have completely unpredictable environmental consequences. Yes, it can be done, but we don’t know what it would cause.


    We’ve all seen the map of military tunnels up to 42′ in diameter dug with monstrous tunneling machines running all over the southwest; they run for hundreds of miles and connect vast underground facilities for obvious reasons.

    Once of the best ways to get get a lot of water for a long period of importation to our state, may be buy it from someplace in the Northern Hemisphere where their is an apparent excess and bring it to California. This could even be environmentally sound. Research indicates that global warming pole melt down threatens too much fresh water covering our upper Salt Water oceans which then starts a freezing process and leads into an ice age as the frozen ocean surface stops under water rivers that retain up-welling salt water which normally freezes at higher lower temperature than the surface excess fresh water melt off.

    No one solution is likely to address the water shortage problem. But issue one seems to be that we have to find a way to start speaking truth to power and give full disclosure to each other and declassify programs that seem to be causing many unintended health related issues.

  7. It will take a great deal of misbehavior from a brilliant and bold minority of California lovers to expunge California’s brazen, media-approved leaders of brainless decline, hatred of good and endless control thereof.

  8. Patricia Ridenour

    THank you, Dr. Hanson, for putting all of this in words that few of us can use as well as you do. It makes me feel better. Our problem in Kansas grassland is the lesser prairie chicken and waters of the world. For us, cattle eating grass provides protein for the people that comes from grass that cannot be used otherwise. It is a salvage of a worthless resource. THe land is the same as it was hundreds of years ago. But no, government management is considered necessary. Nothing has changed in hundreds of years. Leave us alone. The lesser prairie chicken population was disminished because of 4 years of drought, but that was not considered a reason by the EPA.
    It is all political, control over the natives. I think that the liberals want to stop the oil well exploration in Kansas to teach us a lesson for voting Republican.
    I am grateful to you for your writings.
    Patricia Ridenour

  9. I am in total agreement with you. But my question is this: why did not the state legislature invest the same borrowed funds in building more dams and catchment areas (which everyone knows we need) instead of trying out a highspeed rail line through the Central Valley which most people think we don’t need? And why not spend a few million repairing the Success Dam and others which were allowed to age without repairs and maintenance?

    1. Proudly Unaffiliated

      You are asking why the people in charge, the one’s who created all these problems, don’t have the common sense to fix the problem. I think the answer is self-evident.

  10. I was born in California but left many years ago with my father when I was very young and have lived since then in the east – New York and now South Carolina. Life today in California is so sad and I am so happy I am not there. I don’t know how anyone would want to stay in the state. Why do you stay?

  11. Bill Schroeder

    Vandalism , theft , drought . Sorry times. People must be migrating out of California in large numbers.

    Good article Dr. Hanson

    1. Yes they are migrating…using the I-5 corridor to make Oregon their new home…don’t need a job…wonderful benefits…tolerably mild weather year around…filled with many “caring” people willing to tax others…pushovers for a “sob” story…kind of like Obama’s administration…

      1. Knew one couple that moved to Oregon. The husband got a legacy, retired young and built a large house there. In short, if you have the money your fleeing north to the State you can retire quietly too. If you don’t you go East following the companies fleeing Calfironia to Texas, OK, etc. And if you have no money, well your stuck on CalCaid and living off the State welfare roles. Even Oprah is said to be buying a place In Denver.

  12. Hi Dr. Hanson.

    Interesting timing, as I recently re-read a favorite SF book of mine, “A World Out of Time” by Larry Niven, where the concept of the “Water Monopoly Empire” (or hydraulic Empire was a central thesis. I’m sure you’ve heard of such before, but how do you see that playing out in California and the greater Southwest?

  13. This makes me very sad. VDH describes an experience for himself and many in his state that sparks me to recall some of the scenarios of infrastructure, legal, criminal, social and even, in its broadest sense, a kind of spiritual disintegration depicted in Atlas Shrugged. I live in Texas and have not been able to get to California to visit friends and family who live there as often or for as long as I have wanted, and I wish the future looked more promising for being able to travel there for overdue face to face time with them. However, it’s also true that I’m grateful to not be residing there to be confronted at much closer range with the tragedy of seeing much of what had made The Golden State so shiny being turned into pyrite.

  14. Mike Tenenbaum

    Dear Dr. Hanson:
    I follow your columns regularly and as a History Major, I consider “Carnage and Culture” a seminal work.
    Since you write about California frequently, I’m sending you a column about both ethnicity and law enforcement in California. Fred is a little out there and somewhat off the beaten track, but he’s usually more right than he is wrong. Any comments would be welcomed.
    Best Regards,
    Mike Tenenbaum

  15. I’m not trying to play Chicken Little here but if California should have a major earthquake now, it could seriously dissrupt the already dwindling water supply in ways that can’t even be imagined. Marc Reisner, better known for his book from 30 years ago – Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water – also wrote a book just before his death in 1990 entitled “A Dangerous Place: California’s Unsettling Fate” which describes just such a hypothetical, cataclysmic scenario. Unfortunately, the liberals in Sacramento, who should be prepared for a perfecct storm of earthquake, heat and lack of water, instead are building a choo-choo train. Money, like water, is a limited resource – use it wisely.

  16. Professor Hanson, I am shocked Didn’t Jerry Brown say “California is Back.” Now you tell me that there is poverty, unemploymen,t crime in Calfiornia. Dog fightling, Did you call PETA?
    I am 52 year old and Moving back to Monterey California. I was talking to some “liberal” professors at Monterey State. They are so typical telling me about social justice and diversity etc you know the typical liberal nonsense. However, when I told them I am going into salinas, they promptly told the areas to avoid because of the gang activity.
    Salinas use to be a quiet town now it is war zone. But yet no one in Pebble Beach, Pacific Grove or Carmel have the guts to admit uncheck immigration offers nothing positive. still insisting that they need the labor. News Flash California is going broke saving money on illegal immigration.
    Finally, I do know the reason that Brown is allowing the farmers all the water they want. These farmers hire immigrants who need their paychecks to send Money to Mexico. So the farming industry may not necessary support California’s economy but the economy of mexico. .

  17. Addendum
    again when I tell the good liberals of Pacific Grove, Carmel, and Pebble Beach that I am going into Salinas, they volunteer their advice on how to stay safe and places to avoid. Don’t they see that 30 years ago before this immigration problem, the areas was safe

  18. When I was a boy I often wondered as to the amount of water I used taking a shower as opposed to a bath. After much thought I came to a simple solution to the question. The next time I took a shower I put a drain plug in the bathtub drain hole. The results amazed me.

    Thank you.

  19. dear sir:

    “you realize, of course, that this means war.” bugs bunny, famous social commentator. no need for uniforms, simple hue will define the sides. for those who are mugwumped, lay in a goodly supply of atzlan/u-cal berkeley t-shirts for monday through wednesday, and old bush-cheney t-shirts for thurs. through saturday. and, may i suggest guns and target practice.

    you really think us far removed from all that sort of thing? i don’t.

    john jay
    milton freewater, oregon

  20. Great article Mr.Hanson . The God of Nature and Natures God is in control and with Glory and Praise to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ their is nothing to fear .

  21. Pingback: THE GREAT CALIFORNIA DROUGHT | Stephen Golay

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