May 12 2014
If you were a resident of San Diego in 1856, you might have looked skyward and wondered what happened to the clouds that bring rain. That year it rained only five inches between July 1855 and June 1856. Then for the next five years the rainclouds deposited about eight inches a year. But the sky opened up in 1861 and drenched San Diego with over fifteen inches, ending a five year drought. Looking at San Diego Water Years for the past one hundred and sixty-two years (1851-2013) there is a remarkably consistent pattern of dry years, broken by years where the rainfall was abundant. Overall, the average is 9.9 inches a year.
So whats the big deal? Why is everyone talking drought, even a Great Drought? Just the year before in 1850, an act to incorporate the City of San Diego was passed. The First election established government by a Common Council and elected mayor. San Diego’s first Mayor was Joshua Bean, brother of the famous Judge Roy Bean and on September 9, 1850 California was granted statehood by the United States of America.
The war between Mexico and the United States had ended several years earlier in 1848, and now the state of California and the county of San Diego, both established in 1850, were beginning to grow. San Diego was primarily composed of a number of homes and businesses situated around Presidio Hill, but other homes and buildings could be seen further away, newly constructed, independent, yet still a large part of the settlement at San Diego. The population was about six hundred, consisting of Mexicans, military, and many easterners, most of whom were looking for business opportunities and new lives in the West. There were also many public officials coming and going. Local water use was well under fifty gallons a day per person at most.
The big deal is the number of people who now call San Diego County home. The six hundred who lived here in 1851 may have been mildly concerned about why it was not raining enough to fill the cisterns, but now that over three million people live here, the lack of rain becomes a major catastrophe, especially if it continues for an unknown number of years. Reservoirs are about half full now, but at the consumption rate of over 150 gallons per day for each of the three million, reservoirs will be drained.
In 1851 no one in San Diego worried about how much snow fell in the Sierras. That snow water only fed the rivers in Northern California. But now we look longingly at the snow pack and worry. And we look at the ever-diminishing flow of the Colorado River and worry, just as the twenty million other people do in the seven states depending on that over-drafted muddy stream.
Naysayers poo-poo the current drought and call those who are worried Chicken Little (who warned the sky is falling}. Do not be deceived. If the current drought continues, and there is any interruption in the 80% of the imported water flowing into San Diego County, the population of in this desert may fall precipitously. Perhaps not to six hundred, but likely to a fraction of the current three million.As history instructs us, people will move to where the water is.And that will be north and east.
So what is the solution? For starters, we need to accelerate the design and construction of potable recycling, not purple pipe systems, but real solutions for San Diego County. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, there will be little done until the taps are dry and toilets dont flush. In 1851, San Diegans would have asked, “Whats a toilet? That little house out back with the half-moon cut in the door works just fine.”
By Milt Burgess • Blog • 0 • Tags: California Aqueduct, conservation, El Nino, La Nina, MWD, precipitation, purification, Reservoir Augmentation, residential water user, SDCWA, State Water Project, water Storage, wet centuries