For the Sacramento Valley the drought came to an end sometime in November when the weather pattern shifted and returned the jet stream to its proper place as Pacific storms brought rain and snow to California. The rain and snow continued through December and January filling most of the lakes and reservoirs to capacity. On February 7, 2017, damage was spotted on the spillway for Oroville Dam and for the next few weeks, like a disaster movie unfolding, we watched the water tear at the dam and the safety of the communities below. Other dams throughout Northern California rose to capacity and beyond. The evacuation of the residents below Oroville Dam, as the water continued to pound the North State, illustrated the feast or famine of California’s water system. Just the year before, elected officials had questioned the wisdom of lowering lake levels in January, as had been done since the dam was built, to protect downstream communities from flooding. “How can you waste that water,” the public demanded. The drought had been so long that climate scientists warned there would never be another snowpack in the Sierra’s. Drought is the new normal they chorused for years leading up to 2017. We think we know, but the reality is that California has always changed and always will. Couple that with our earthquake issues and our aging infrastructure, and you can see why disasters continue to unfold.
In the movie, Deep Water Horizon, about the oil spill disaster in the gulf, the main character played by Mark Wahlberg when asked about the about the safety of the plant tells a BP executive that what the company is doing is like running out of fuel as the plane lands. “Hope is not a strategy,” he tells the BP executive. We are in the same place. We hope that the repairs on the spillway will be completed in time, but without information and documents about what took place, all we will have is hope. We hope this is the end to the drought, but it might not be. We might have seen a blip on the screen and will be heading into the 40 year drought that is mentioned in the book, The West Without Water. “Hope is not a strategy.”
Throughout the movie Deep Water Horizon, a red button was prominently displayed, which could be used to cut the well pipe and stop the unimpaired flow of oil into the gulf. Hands reach for the button, but it never gets pushed. Some people were told not to push the button, others choose not to push the button. Fear drives some of the decisions, as well as lack of information. It is a pattern that you see in many disasters. Pushing past the fear and lack of information is a solution that we all need to strive toward. “Hope is not a strategy.” We need to know when to push the red button. In the past half century, the people of California and the world have lived off of the dreams and work from a generation now gone. Those people built a water system for future generations and we have believed the myth that we could continue to grow and prosper without spending money to add to that system and keep it in good repair. We need to act now and leave for future generations the gifts that past generations left for us. We need to elect men and women who will have the courage to make decisions that that protect our dams roads and bridges for this generation and the generations to come. Thank you, Butte County Sheriff Kory L. Honea for reminding us what that type of leadership looks like. n