The annual snow pack measurement near Phillips in the Sierra Nevada Mountains occurred Wednesday — April Fools' Day — which may have put some Californians on the possibility of an April 1 prank.
In reality, it turned out to be what may become a crucial turning point in California’s history.
Standing on a high-altitude plateau were state officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown. One of the officials held a snow-depth measuring stick. Photos from the event show the men staring at grass and other flora — but not a smidgen of snow, where in a normal weather year there would have been snowpack up to 6 feet in depth.
The scarcity of snow impressed the governor to such an extent that he immediately issued an executive order for mandatory water-use reductions, the fist time that has happened in state history.
Most of you will recall that at the beginning of 2014 — one of California’s driest years on record — the governor asked state residents to voluntarily cut back on their water use. He sought a 20-percent reduction.
Californians complied, sort of. It took nearly all of last year to achieve the 20-percent reduction, in large part because it’s beginning to look like this year will be drier than last year, and if climatologists are guessing correctly, the beginning of a mega-drought.
What this all boils down to is that conserving water is no longer a suggestion, it’s an absolute necessity, backed by the force of state law and agencies that could levy stiff fines on those who don’t get with the program.
This mandated program to keep California from going bone dry will require a cooperative effort, and that could get a bit sticky. Homeowners hoping to save their landscaping will point fingers at farmers' water consumption. Farmers will point back, perhaps asking how much California-grown grass and shrubbery will Americans eat.
You can see the potential for a monumental political battle, because there aren’t many people living in California who don’t have something — often quite a lot — invested in infrastructure and property that requires water.
Only a few hours after Brown’s executive order, California Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy said he would push efforts in Congress to pass legislation to require creation of two massive water facilities in the state. Similar legislation in previous years failed for lack of Democrat support, due to environmental concerns.
So, the water wars have already begun. But as we have pointed out in this space many times in recent years, if big investments are to be made in water projects, why not include a new growth industry for California — removing the salt from sea water to make it useful for residential, business and agricultural uses?
We call it a growth industry because if this is, indeed, the early stages of a mega-drought affecting all the western states, it’s difficult to imagine that Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and perhaps even Oregon and Washington will not be in the market for purchases of vast quantities of desalinated water from the Pacific Ocean. Oregon and Washington could have their own desalination industries, but why go to the expense, if California gets started first?
Rep. McCarthy’s plan to convince Congress of the need to build water facilities makes sense, but only if the water for those facilities comes from the ocean — assuming Mother Nature won’t be the supplier.
California has a history of responding intelligently to crises, and this is one of those situations.