Driest year in California history sparks arid memories and previews the warmer world we're creating
Officials try to learn from each drought, studying what happened and trying to develop long-term solutions, such as the water banking and distribution systems established during the 1976-77 drought. Yet a study by the Department of Water Resources in 1978 also concluded that we're essentially at the mercy of nature.
"The 1976-77 drought has again shown that finite nature of our resources and our limited ability to control nature," read the introduction to the report "The 1976-77 California Drought: A Review."
DWR's then-Director Ronald Robie warned at the time that there was no way to predict when or how severe the next drought might be. "We can be assured, however, that drought will return," he wrote, "and, considering the greater needs of that future time, its impact, unless prepared for, will be much greater."
Those words could carry a special resonance now, but it's even scarier given long-range climate change forecasts that Robie wasn't taking into account when he wrote those words. California estimates it will add more than 15 million people between 2010 and 2060, crossing the 50 million people mark in 2049.
"California could lead the nation into renewable energy. You've got the sun. But it would take a 21st century statesman. I guess we'll find out whether Brown's that guy — he could be, freed from the need for political popularity after this next election," McKibben said, calling Brown "a true visionary in many ways, but also a politician. What a fascinating gut check!"
Gleick said that he sometimes gets asked whether climate change is causing the current California drought or other specific weather incidents, and he said that question misses the crucial point: "All of our weather today is influenced by climate change."
As the climate changes and the world warms, that becomes the new normal for California and other regions, affecting all of its weather patterns. "As goes our climate," Gleick said, "so goes our water, and we're not ready."