WATER IS THE LONG TERM ISSUE
In “East of Eden”, John Steinbeck wrote of the Salinas Valley: “I have spoken of the rich years when water was plentiful. But there were dry years too, and they put a terror in the valley. The water came in a thirty-year cycle. There would be five or six wet and wonderful years when there might be nineteen to twenty-five inches of rain, and the land would shout with grass. Then would come six or seven pretty good years of twelve to sixteen inches of rain. And then there would be only seven or eight inches of rain. The land dried up and the grasses headed up miserably a few inches high and great bare scabby places appeared in the valley. The live oaks got a crusty look and the sagebrush was gray. The land cracked and the springs dried up and the cattle listlessly nibbled dry twigs….People would have to haul water in barrels to their farms just for drinking. Some families would sell out for nearly nothing and move away. And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”
Now we are in those dry years: our lakes and wells are drying up and our land is starting to crack. We know that wet years will return, but will we make the effort now to prepare for those wet years? Now is the time to make more catch basins. Now is the time to make plans to divert river water to Lake Casitas, when the wet years’ rainfall begins to decline, and carry on the diversion continuously. There won’t be any threat of pushing steelhead salmon into extinction in the Ojai Valley with river water diversion. If the rivers go underground for three spawning seasons or four or five, Nature will do that for us.
Steinbeck wrote of the Salinas Valley in 1952, but he could just as easily been writing about the Ojai Valley. As long I have been living here, we have seen the rivers wash our precious resource to the sea unabated. Yes, this is how the sand is replenished at our beaches, but when we know that dry years are coming, it is only prudent to begin storing for those lean times. Continuously diverting some water to Lake Casitas and building more catch basins in the valley is a sound strategy for preparing for the dry years.
This short discussion could be applied to what will likely be the difficult time for Governor Jerry Brown. His May revise of the budget will show a very hefty surplus (possibly between $3 billion and $8 billion). Some of it will be diverted to schools, and much of it will be diverted to the “Rainy Day Fund” to help the state carry on when financial times are lean. I don’t like taxes, but maintaining this sales tax increase (Proposition 30) will allow the reserve account to grow to a level that will sustain us through leaner times.
We need to keep thinking about the future and how we can manage our resources – natural and financial – to allow us to survive the cycle of California life. The time to begin that process is now.