As a native Sacramentan, I spent much of my life in and around our beautiful, but mighty rivers. I know and love these powerful tributaries. So powerful, that our aging levees are tested each year, as they swell from the rains of winter-until this year. Our rivers and lakes are dangerously low.
As Yogi Berra so eloquently stated, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” I was in my early twenties, Close Encounters of the Third Kind had me looking at the stars more closely and Jerry Brown was our governor-talk about déjà. It was 1977, two years into a multi-year drought. As he did then, Governor Jerry Brown has again called our severe drought a state of emergency.
Back then, possibly due to my age, the drought seemed more of an irritant. People drained their pools, lawns died and discussing toilet use was serious business. In fact, the phrase “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down” became the norm.
However, just as it was back then, a drought in California is serious for the entire country, as we produce more food than any other state. Obviously, when we have limited water, our food production suffers. One extreme example is our cattle industry. Many of our ranchers rely on native grasses to feed their roaming cattle. In 1977, many ranchers were faced with selling off much of their livestock because there was no grass and the cost of feed rose precipitously. The same is happening today. (Drought of 1977 video)
It’s not just potential loss of crops or increased water cost at stake if this drought continues as it did in the ’70s. Much of the state uses hydroelectric power-power by running water. During the last drought, hydroelectric production was down 50%. Granted, we have other means of supporting our power-hungry needs. Nevertheless, losing this low-cost form of generating power contributes even more stress on California’s fragile economic recovery.
Compared to the drought of the ’70s, today’s drought is more than just an irritant for me. I suppose since I’m older, I take more into consideration than the inconvenience of water restrictions. I fear for the elderly in my area skipping meals due to inevitably higher-priced food. Additionally, they may not be able to afford to turn on their air conditioners this summer as the temperature rises above 90 degrees. For me, I’ll be fine. I have my little veggie garden and my water use is exceptionally low.
Whether or not our drought continues in the same footsteps of the ’70s is yet to be determined. Comparatively however, the ’70s drought began with the same unmovable high-pressure ridge off the coast — which doesn’t allow rain producing storm systems in — we have now. As humans, there isn’t anything we can do about altering our fate one way or the other. The only thing we can do is to remember what worked in the past and what didn’t. Conservation and water rationing worked then and should work now.
I suppose we will introduce a new generation to the mantra, “If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.”
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