Everything you always wanted to know about drought*

Four of us from the Ojai Valley area, all concerned citizens from very different backgrounds, think that we need to talk frankly about the drought, and more, do what we can about it. Not just for ourselves, our properties, gardens, orchards, trees, lands, and wildlife, but also for our community.

This Sunday, at the Ojai Retreat, one of my favorite scientists, Bill Patzert, will I expect scare us with his talk on the history of drought in California and the Southwest, along the lines of this recent piece of his in Los Angeles magazine

Let’s look back over the last 20 centuries: We’ve seen tremendous droughts in the American West. In the 11th century there was an 80-year drought along the Colorado. This is before global warming by anthropogenic—or man-made—sources. The 20th century, which is when we built our civilization in California, was one of the wettest in 2,000 years. It was an anomaly. We know this from tree ring records. We have built a civilization, which is the sixth- or seventh-largest economy in the world, based on imported water in a wet century. How do you like that?

Patzert's talk will be followed by a panel discussion, with Steve Bennett, of the Board of Supervisors; Russ Baggerly, of the Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency, Steve Sprinkel, of The Farmer and the Cook, and Steve Wickstrum, of Casitas Municipal Water District, moderated by yours truly. 

Here's an op-ed I had in Ojai Valley News on the subject of this event, below, but the basic point to be made is simple — if in the Ojai area, come join us this Sunday, from 1:45 to 5:15. It's free with a reservation. 

FACING DROUGHT TOGETHER: Concerned Citizens of Ojai Valley

         According to meteorological records from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, California has been in drought for the last thirty months, and the last two months have been as dry as any winter since the 19th century. That was when Mark Twain supposedly remarked, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

         Here in Ojai, where we are dependent on local sources for all our water, we need to face up to this issue. Four of us from the Ojai Valley area, all concerned citizens from very different backgrounds, think that we need to talk frankly about the drought, and more, do what we can about it. Not just for ourselves, our properties, gardens, orchards, trees, lands, and wildlife, but also for our community.

         It’s not a stretch to say that a successful culture depends on fresh clean water, and not only is it as dry as it has ever been in the instrumental record in California, but paleoclimatologists suggest – working with evidence such as tree-ring records – that this may be the driest period since the year 1580, a year they say almost no precipitation hit the Sierra Nevada.

         For this reason, we are hold an afternoon drought conference March 9th at The Ojai Retreat. We will begin with a “big picture” talk from Bill Patzert, a veteran overseer of a NASA satellite program, and perhaps the leading voice on the climate and meteorology of Southern California.

         The governor and legislature have proposed funding for a groundwater storage lan they say will make a difference for the state, but Ojai and part of Ventura, dependent on the Ventura River watershed, have our own water management decisions to make.

         Already some voices in the community have called for mandatory water conservation measures; meanwhile Ventura and Los Angeles offer assistance to homeowners who convert turf lawns to water-conserving or ocean-friendly gardens.

         Probably we can agree on the need to conserve water, but which path towards that goal will we take? We are not at mandatory conservation yet, but now is the time to discuss constructive actions to keep our community together. Water in crisis has the potential to pit neighbor against neighbor – which only makes matters worse.

         For this reason, as a reporter, I will ask questions of a panel of prominent government officials, (including Steve Bennett from the Board of Supervisors, Steve Wickstrum from Casitas Municipal Water District, and Russ Baggerly from the Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency); Steve Prinkel, of the Farmer and the Cook, and Deborah Pendrey, of the Ojai Valley Green Coalition. We hope the ensuing discussion will clarify the issues and possible choices without rancor.

         Because we believe in helping each other save water, we also are holding a workshop session, organized by civil engineer Bill O’Brien, on greywater strategies. Cinnamon McIntosh from Casis MWD will offer instruction on water saving in the home, and Renee Roth will speak on water conserving gardens.

         Pastor Victoria Loorz has called on spiritual leaders from the community, and with Ched Myers, Jule Stensile-Tumamait, among others, will help us see how the watershed connects us both physically and spiritually, and how we can benefit from praying together in our different ways.

         The director of the Ojai Retreat, Ulrich Brugger, wanted to host this event especially – to give us a chance, at least for one day, to be together on this issue, and to find a communality in our plight.

         Please join us. This is a donation-only event, but seating is limited; make reservations at 640-1142.

Here's NOAA's drought monitor for CAafter the recent rainstorms. Here in Ventura County, we're in "extreme drought," but it could be worse — we could be in the brown/"exceptional drought" category. 


*but were afraid to ask.

Related articles

Patzert: The history of the world is written in droughts
Facing Drought Together: The Ojai Retreat 3/9/2014
Ventura County's water crisis: Low water mark for basins
Clarifying the Discussion about California Drought and Climate Change [Significant Figures by Peter Gleick]

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