California Droughts: Then And Now

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Erico Matias Tavares of Sinclair & Co,

The obstinate drought in California is showing no signs of letting up, and is now being compared to the last major drought which took place during 1976 and 1977.

Back then, the state was not as well equipped to cope with severe dryness. The sharp decline of surface water supplies coupled with the lack of backup reservoirs and waterways caused a lot of damage to the state’s agriculture, in particular to the livestock industry. As it turned out, the drought reversed itself completely a year later, and California powered on to become the major agro-industrial player it is today.

At the height of the drought, predictions about California’s water future were just as dire as the ones we are hearing today. Here’s an interesting snippet from a U.S. Government Accountability Office report published in October 1977:

“The State water plan shows that dependable water supplies will not provide for State needs through the year 2000, even if certain conditions are met. These conditions include completion of planned federal, State, and local surface and groundwater projects, as well as reclamation and reuse of wastewater. To compensate, more groundwater will have to be extracted than is replaced. Continued, excessive extraction of groundwater can lead to land subsistence, poor water quality, and high energy costs as pumping depths increase.”

But actions were undertaken to improve efficiency and significantly boost infrastructure, and with generally favorable precipitation patterns water supplies have lasted well beyond the year 2000. Yet another example of California’s engineering and ingenuity.

However, the current drought may get much trickier if we don’t see a sharp reversal in rainfall patterns soon (which is conceivable given the hydro-climatic variability of the southwest).

Climate models predict that California could become warmer and drier in the future. So the weather may turn out to be much less cooperative than suggested by recent history. There are 23 million more people now than in the late 1970s and virtually every drop of water is accounted for. And the agricultural industry, the state’s largest consumer of water, is of course much bigger today.

The Wild West was conquered by enterprising and optimistic pioneers, and successive water rights officials in California seem to have inherited those qualities in spades. According to a recent study by Theodore Grantham and Joshua Viers, both from the University of California, water right allocations total almost *five times* the state’s mean annual runoff, and account for up to 1000% of natural surface water supplies in the major river basins.

It seems that there is a conflict brewing as

“(…) the state simply does not have accurate knowledge of how much water is being used by most water rights holders. As such, it is nearly impossible to curtail or re-allocate water in an equitable manner among water users and to effectively manage for environmental water needs.”

The stakes are very high now and out-of-the-box solutions are needed. Otherwise this time might turn out to be different indeed.

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Professorlocknload's picture

Plenty of water, just all in the wrong place.

localsavage's picture

Funny that Pelosi's district has no water restrictions...It must not really be a problem then.

wee-weed up's picture

Mexifornia/Pelosi is a dry scab that needs to just hurry up and fall off of the rest of the country already.

Harbanger's picture

Save Lake Mead and drown Harry Reid.

ZerOhead's picture

The 2014 raisin harvest looks promising...

Harbanger's picture

Prunes blame it on the dry weather.

asteroids's picture

You Kalifornians should start building desalinization plants. Roll up your sleeves and stop whining.

James_Cole's picture

Large-scale ocean desalination, a technology that was part of President John F. Kennedy’s vision of the future half a century ago, has stubbornly remained futuristic in North America, even as sizable plants have been installed in water-poor regions like the Middle East and Singapore.

Desalination is very expensive and energy intensive, instead of preparing for the future via investment people seemed much more interested in head-in-the-sand / save a buck till absolutely no other option. Sort of like another famous environmental issue...


nmewn's picture

They spend, errr ahhh, go into debt, for stupid shit like low flush toilets, bullet trains and social workers on every corner, so why can't they channel all that "green energy" from the bird frying Google super magnifying glass' easy-bake-oven electricity generation plant to a few desal plants so they don't, oh I don't know...die of thirst?

greyghost's picture

santa barbara ca built a $26 million plant to remove salt from ocean water. the year after it opened the rain returned. over aprox. 20 years they sold off almost all the main equipment, mainly to middle eastern countries. now the city says no problem, will only take $15 million to restart. you just can't make this shit up

chumbawamba's picture

"Climate models predict that California could become warmer and drier in the future. So the weather may turn out to be much less cooperative than suggested by recent history."

Sounds like the same kind of bullshit they were saying in the 70s.

We'll talk about this again in another 40 years, players.

I am Chumbawamba.

MisterMousePotato's picture

"Desalination is very expensive and energy intensive ... ."

Not sure this is necessarily true. I recall reading about a fairly large-scale desalinization project done back in the mid 1800's, I think it was, in Brazil or somewhere in South America that used nothing more than glass, the sun, some rudimentary plumbing, and some catch basins. Run salt water in during the day, evaporation, condenses on the glass, catch the runoff.

in4mayshun's picture

We won't complain about desalinating water if you won't complain about $12/lb fruit.

Jab Cross Hook's picture

Asteroids is correct. But Gov. Moonbeam would rather build the Brown Bullet hi-speed-rail-to-nowhere.

Too bad they won't have enough water to mix the concrete.

benb's picture

This is nothing like the 75-77 drought. This is the Agenda 21 Drought. It is being created by elements of the Federal Government using Chemtrails and HAARP to wage war against us. It's called Weather Modification. Wait until lettuce is $6 a head.

Listening to the political infants on this board is becoming trying.

Where we going? -

HughK's picture

That damn Governor Moonbean, trying to trample on Californian's rights by building a fast train connecting two major cities, with all of the economic development and alternative to car transport which that brings.  

My God, that would make California easy to travel around such as....oh horror....that enclave of Stalinism known as Western Europe.  Ohhh what terrible havoc Eurostar has you can go from downtown Paris to downtown London in two and a half hours...all without going through a body scanner!

Los Angelinos have a God-given natural right to sit in hours of gridlock.  Californians, free yourselves of Brown's tyranny!

The of course, there's the fact that you can run a train without using a lot of fossil fuels.  That's just adding insult to injury!  Californians also have a right to zero snowpack in the Sierras and record droughts.

MeMadMax's picture

I just moved out of california about a month ago after a 3 year stint...


That place is fucked....

Harbanger's picture

Thanks to all the liberals there.  I don't know if they should let you into another state.

OldPhart's picture

The years leading up to 76 and 77 were pretty dry, too.

I was rasing my rustled Charlais steer for 4-H.  I couldn't get alfalfa anywhere, and there were plenty of alfalfa farms around our area.  I resorted to feeding him 2x4's, tumbleweeds, greasewood, and tree leaves.  Oats and other grains were available but were so expensive.  Overall he was about 150 pounds underweight, he wasn't skin and bones, though, he actaully weighed 900+ pounds. 

Since he was underweight he didn't make the county fair auction, had to sell him as live beef privately.

ZerOhead's picture

I really feel for the cattlemen. Every day they get up and look up at the sky and try to figure out a way to survive without anything for the cattle to graze.

I remember the days spent watching the weather channel on the farm. First waiting for 3 dry days to get the seeders on the fields in the spring and then waiting for enough dry days in late summer to get the crops off before the quality was shot or a storm flatted it. In between all that we were usually 'praying' for rain. We didn't actually have to pray ourselves because we were fortuntate enough to have our fields close enough to a very religious neighbor who did...

Pool Shark's picture



I've said it before, and I'll say it again:

Those of us who are old enough (and who don't suffer ADD) remember well California's prior droughts.

This one will end the same way: with massive rainfall and mudslides.

Just like summers are hot and winters are cold; everything runs in cycles.

It's called "weather"...


ZerOhead's picture

That's entirely possible.

It's also possible that a more historically normal rainfall pattern for California develops as evidenced in paleo reconstructions.

In that case the drought conditions that existed for most of the past thousand years or so could stick around for a while...

jbvtme's picture

prior droughts were not geo engineered

OldPhart's picture

Yep, and with the fires...the rains of Oct/Nov should produce epic results.  In the LA area, most of the water will go straight to the ocean.  Up here in the desert, the dry lakes will fill and evaporate.

James_Cole's picture

For the kidz, here yeah go:

What's the Difference Between Weather and Climate?

HughK's picture

Ha ha...good work, James, for exposing the fact that at least 37 ZH upvoters (as I write this) are apparently ignorant of this difference.

Why is it that quite a few of the people who are so good at seeing through the BS of the Fed and Wall Street can't see how they are being manipulated by climate deniers funded by oil companies?  It's a mystery to me.

Manthong's picture

“Save Lake Mead and drown Harry Reid” long as you do it in a sewage settling pond .

Do not contaminate Lake Mead.

drendebe10's picture

"There ain't nuthin uglier than an old white woman."  Fred Sanford,  Sanford & Son

Pileofshitsi "We have to pass it to find out what's in it." is a completely moronic, botoxed faced, hair dyed withered old hag who needs its skin sandpapered off, buried in salt and then thrown in the Nevada desert...

TexasAggie's picture

When she croaks, EPA will probably have to have her buried as hazardous waste.

falconflight's picture

The farmers and ranchers will pick up their slack.

cougar_w's picture

Then there isn't plenty of water.

ZerOhead's picture

All we need are GMO engineered mellons that can tolerate 3.5% salinity and the problems are solved...

cougar_w's picture

WTF does that even mean? You are going to wash your clothes and flush your toilet with watermellon juice?

I'd laugh but that kind of delusion is just scary.

cougar_w's picture

We're both cats. We're supposed to be ahead of these other pukes.

Bill the Cat in particular was a genius.

Bill of Rights's picture

Obviously you did kid catch his snark.

oudinot's picture

Soil goes salty as irrigation is used after a number of years; salinity is a poison for crps

ZerOhead's picture

Worked for the Romans in Carthage...

On the prairie the soil we had was practically caked in potassium salts. Only needed to add nitrogen and phosphorus...

yochananmichael's picture

plant salt absorbing crops like tomatoes

El Vaquero's picture

I am growing these:


I have watered them once in the past month.  Their rinds still start to crack as they get ripe, and, when grown under those conditions, they are sweeter than anything you can get in the store.  I've read articles about people who claim that the native melons taste bad, but I bet they're watering them like they would a honeydew or a cantaloupe, which it says not to do right on the seed packet.  I don't think I'll ever be able to eat a store bought melon again.

ZerOhead's picture

Oh baby they don't look good.

That's my favorite mellon family by a mile. I have about 30 acres of  black organic soil on my bug-infested property with just the right pH waitng for them one day. Until that day arrives they tell me hands off cuz it's environmentally protected mosquito and deerfly habitat...

BTW... you can dehydrate them to preserve them and they are simply delish! Natural candy!

El Vaquero's picture

Those particular melons will handle a soil Ph of 8.0 without a problem. 

ZerOhead's picture

I'm in the range of 5.5 to 6 naturally. Cantaloupes and spuds love it and there is no need to water. The bear that found my patch should have wrote me a 'thank-you' note...

Harbanger's picture

+1 for "environmentally protected mosquito and deerfly habitat..."

It would be funny if it weren't true.  Why do you hate the planet?

ZerOhead's picture

I love the planet. I also love most people. Not so crazy about what some people do to the planet or each other however.

If this sucker crashes the way I think it's going to crash they will have to come up with a new word to describe it. Capital (and fertilizer and oil) intensive modern agriculture may not be around to the same degree so naturally productive soils will have to be farmed whatever their current environmental status. Till then the swarms of iridescent dragonflys are a sight to behold...

Fruits and veggies grown in rich organic soils. Only the good stuff you mainly harvest by hand.


whatsinaname's picture

Arizona has been seeing some good rainfall the last 2 weeks. Is that going to help in anyway ? 

seek's picture

Not really, the only watershed in AZ that Cali experiences is the same one Las Vegas draws from -- the far north AZ watershed dumps into Colorado, which goes into Lake Powell/Lake Mead. Cali's share of the Colorado is fixed by a multi-state water agreement. So only a very small portion of the rain in AZ fed into the Colorado, and that's virtually nothing -- and it'll go into replenishing the lakes, and Cali will only get a sliver of whatever is released due to the water sharing agreement.

AZ has much better water management policy than CA, and isn't seeing the same level of drought, so it's much better off comparatively. Still using water in stupid ways, but nowhere near the scale it's done in Cali.