gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
[personal profile] gridlore
And here comes the rain again. Ever get something you really need, and then get too bloody much of it? That's California and water this year. After four years of severe, devastating drought, we finally got the good news that the storm doors had opened!

Blown off the hinges, actually. We had the wettest January and February in the state's history. Buckets of rain and, in the higher elevations, snow came crashing down. Joy at the possible end of the drought turned to concern then to fear as water kept deluging our dry hills and valleys. In many places, hillsides stripped of trees by the past few fire seasons gave way, leading to landslides all across the state.

And still the rains came. Reservoirs that had been nearly empty filled with such speed that hydraulic engineers, facing this problem for the first time in decades, had to deal with dams bursting at the seams. At Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the United States, the main spillway crumbled under the rushing waters, sending multi-ton chunks of concrete tumbling down to the Feather River. The emergency spillway, which had never been used in the dam's 50 year history, was opened up and nearly collapsed itself as the raging waters eroded away decades of growth and top soil.

It was all too much! Everywhere you looked there were streets filled with standing water and blocked storm drains. A fish hatchery had to evacuate over a million baby salmon lest the debris and silt pouring down the Feather River kill them all. All over the state our aging infrastructure gave up the ghost and stopped functioning. At least two levies failed.

There was so much water coming down the various river systems in Northern California, and so much silt and debris in that water, that San Francisco Bay turned brown and was briefly considered to be a freshwater feature. There was a warning issued to all mariners operating in the bay or coming through the Golden Gate to be aware of debris up to and including large trees and portions of buildings.

And still the rains came. Even here in the usually dry Santa Clara County, the waters were causing havoc. Anderson Dam, to the south of us, couldn't be allowed to fill completely due to needed seismic upgrades. Yet as was the case everywhere else, the reservoir was rapidly rising. In a stunning breakdown of communications, water was released into Coyote Creek too quickly, and without evacuation orders going out to residents along the creek banks. The result was the worst flooding seen in the county in a very, very long time.

An amusing side note to the Coyote Creek flood, a gold course grounds manager discovered just how many homeless people were living on his course when he took a boat out to inspect the damages and found 50 people up trees.

Not that funny, I know, but you take it where you can find it.

The sad thing is that even with all the rain we've gotten, and even with the record snow pack up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, we're not out of the woods yet. California has been draining the subterranean water table almost everywhere to fuel our state agricultural juggernaut. It would take several years of weather like this to recharge it. I suggested in all seriousness that the state should have opened levies all across the San Joaquin Valley and in other agricultural areas once the size of the runoff became unmanageable. Flood millions of acres of farmland with water rich in silt and (let's face it) dead biomass. Recharge the soil and the water table a bit. As usual, my voice wasn't heard.

Yeah, I think we're all pretty done with the rain for this year. On the upside, the waterfalls in Yosemite are more stunning than usual, and should remain flowing through August. But that's a minor plus to a series of devastating storms. We now face a race to rebuild and repair not just the Oroville and Anderson dams, but our water infrastructure all around the state. We put it off for far too long.

The real nightmare, though, is that this year was an anomaly. A blip in the weather pattern caused by a series of factors that lined up perfectly, and that next year the rains will stop again. Because despite living in a place where droughts are common, Californians still have goldfish brains when it comes to water conservation. They see a wet winter and immediately go back to wasteful ways, and we can't afford that. Because the next drought is right around the proverbial corner, right behind the storm door that can close any time.

Date: 23 Mar 2017 09:14 (UTC)
claidheamhmor: (Default)
From: [personal profile] claidheamhmor
Wow. I know about the Oroville dam, didn't know about the rest of the rain! We had something similar here: our Vaal Dam, which services the most populated part of South Africa, was around 22% full, and in critical state, in December. By February, it had hit 103%...

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gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
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