Recently, I attended a meeting for Lake Yosemite Sailing Association, a club I joined 23 years ago. LYSA manages the docks at Lake Yosemite, and members have been keeping track of water every day for the past month.
It seems that whenever Merced Irrigation District releases water into or out of the lake, some club member posts it on Facebook. The recent news has been good – water is going up, and levels are predicted to remain high enough for sailing from June to at least late August.
Last summer, for the first time in more than two decades, LYSA canceled its regatta and Thursday night summer racing series because members could not launch their boats or keep them in the docks – there wasn’t enough water.
The LYSA youth sailing program that runs from June to August had to be cut short last July when it became too difficult to launch even small boats into Lake Yosemite.
The LYSA youth sailing program will be able to resume its June to August schedule. So this summer we will see a return to normal, though of course the Byzantine operations of California’s water management system wouldn’t be seen as normal in any other place but California.
While we were in the clutches of the worst drought ever in this state’s recorded history, I often thought of moving away. Hawaii, I thought, where in some places it rains almost every day and where the average annual rainfall can be as high as 200 inches in some inland areas, might be a good choice – if I could afford to buy property in Hawaii.
Or maybe I could live in the Marshall Islands, where from May through November residents enjoy, every month, as much rainfall as we get in an entire year in Central California. But the United States did a lot of atomic bomb testing in the Marshall Islands during the Cold War, and I couldn’t live on an island infamous for its nuclear contamination.
Perhaps Seattle, I thought. But though Seattle claims to have about 150 days of sunshine per year, I’ve never met anyone who had the good fortune to be there on even one of those sunny days, and I couldn’t abide all of those hipsters lounging around the coffee shops, wearing berets and looking so young and affluent.
Besides, I knew the drought would eventually end.
And now, after four very tough years, many of us have decided to believe that the drought is finally over.
There already are signs that Californians are once again hurtling headfirst into profligate water usage.
Some homeowners’ associations in the Bay Area are gearing up to require residents to maintain green lawns beginning in June. Water agencies in the northern part of the state want water restrictions lifted, and the state Water Resources Control Board is considering moving from mandatory to voluntary water conservation.
In Southern California, though, the effects of El Niño were not as powerful as they were in the northern part of the state, so the drought is not really over for California. And climatologists are predicting an upcoming La Niña, the dry weather phenomenon that almost always follows an El Niño. If we get a dry winter, we will very likely soon find ourselves in the same situation we were in before this year’s brief reprieve.
In the end, there really is no other place in the world I’d want to live, partly because California always has been my home, even when I lived elsewhere, but also because California, despite its droughts, possesses astonishing natural beauty, charming cities and a variety of ethnic cultures like no other state in the nation.
We Californians also have a remarkable ability to reinvent ourselves, to adapt and to innovate that has made our state not only a national leader, but an international one as well.
However, we need to remember that another drought is around the corner, as it always is.
The most pressing question we face is not when the next drought will come, but whether or not we’ll be prepared when it does.
Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.