Editorial: A weak El Niño fails to end our water crisis...

Gov. Jerry Brown discusses water conservation after a meeting last year with city mayors. The state has since fallen behind on mandated savings, thanks to overconfidence in El Niño and warmer-than-expected weather this month. Hector Amezcua Sacramento Bee file

 

Water, water everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s not enough...


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The El Niño everyone was counting on to bail California out of the drought that has lingered for four years appears to have wimped out after a January just wet enough to get our hopes up.

Remember that great snowpack in the Sierra? Remember how so much rain fell that our local reservoirs were filling up quickly and Folsom Dam up north actually had to release water?

Forget that. Now, with a bone-dry February almost behind us, the state finds itself once again facing below-average precipitation and badly lagging its conservation targets.

As The Sacramento Bee’s Phillip Reese, Dale Kasler and Ryan Sabalow reported last week, this El Niño winter has so far delivered only half the precipitation that had fallen by now during the last two big El Niño years.

Meanwhile, the state’s urban water districts have blown their conservation mandates for four straight months, dragging the state below the 25 percent cut Gov. Jerry Brown ordered last summer.

Hello, low-flow toilet. Welcome back, short shower. Oh, so you haven’t decided to leave town this summer after all, then, crispy brown lawn.

It’s dispiriting, no doubt about it. Doubly so, because winter has masked the visual cues that served as a daily reminder of the drought’s urgency.

The lake beds aren’t dry; the San Joaquin Valley isn’t brown. The Blossom Trail is beautiful and awe-inspiring once again. Ski resorts actually have snow and even Death Valley is alive with wildflowers.

But long term, those images of abundance are a dangerous illusion. Unless California gets “a miracle March and an awesome April,” as the State Water Resources Control Board’s Felicia Marcus put it, California will continue to be yoked to this dry spell.

We’d say there has to be a better way, but the truth is, we all already know what the better way is: Double down. Stay the course. And get back to the realization that water is scarce here.

Turn off the sprinklers and fix the leaks in the plumbing. Install drought-tolerant plants and drip irrigation. Muster the money and political will to price the water at its full value, and work as a community to find ways to stop dousing yards with drinking water.

Look to the example of places like San Diego County, where a host of initiatives, large and small, mitigated dry spells for water users there. Implore leaders up and down the Valley to get on the “purple pipe” bandwagon so that our landscapes are irrigated with recycled water.

We hate to be nags, but we all know what has to happen. If there were a shortcut, by now California would have found it.

There isn’t. We prayed for rain, and this little slacker El Niño gave us our answer. Now we just all have to dig deep and get back into the conservation mindset that sustained us last summer. Here’s hoping it turns out to be enough.

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