This drought year certainly has grabbed our attention. The discussion Wednesday night in City Council Chambers has been only one in a series that centers on a single theme: We are running out of water.
It looks as though this water year will finish with only about 4.37 inches having fallen. Compare that to the average of 11.35 inches, and you don’t have to be a genius to see that the deficit this year will be terrible. The water table fell 30 feet last year, according to those who measure it, and the fall continues.
Just to stop the drop, we’d have to get record rains for several years in a row. Perhaps that could happen, but even if it does, we no longer can pretend that all we have to do is drill a little deeper to get all the water we want.
Many families in the valley are frightened, and you can’t blame them. Their wells are beginning to fail, and even if they can afford to have those wells deepened, they find themselves at the end of a long list, waiting for contractors to do the work for them. Even the City of Madera is seeing some of its wells start to suck air. The community of Parkwood’s one well only brings in about 400 gallons per minute, when 700 is needed. A new well is on order, but Parkwood will have to drink from Madera’s supply while the work on the new well is under way.
The lack of rain has drawn down surface water supplies as well. Millerton Lake, usually a reliable backstop, is already spoken for, with fish and some west side water claimants getting what little water it contains.
The reality is that even if we get plenty of rain and snow over the next 12 months, it won’t be enough. It will never be enough, because too many people want and need water in flows that aren’t sustainable, either from surface storage or from under the ground.
We’re going to have to live differently. We’re going to have to realize that the valley in which we dwell is heading back to being an American steppe, the way the first settlers found it, before they developed irrigated crops, unless we find a new way of living here.