California crisis: that damn dam

A little over a year ago, I wrote about California’s alarming drought issues and why people should care about it more.

Well, don’t worry. The drought that you likely never knew about is no longer a problem. It’s started raining in California. A lot.

In fact, the volume and intensity of the rain is so great that it’s created an environmental crisis by damaging the nation’s tallest dam, causing nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. The Oroville dam impounds Lake Oroville, the second-largest man-made lake in the state of California, which sits in the Sierra Nevada foothills in the north.

When the river floods, water is released down the concrete spillway in controlled fashion.

Earlier this month during a period of heavy rain, when water started shooting erratically from the dam, it was discovered that a giant fissure had opened in the spillway.

oroville-dam

And fissure probably isn’t the right word. At 300 feet wide and 45 feet deep, it’s more like a crater. Officials diverted the floodwater to the dam’s emergency spillway, which had never been used, and thus never properly maintained.

In 2005, environmental groups warned that the emergency spillway should be lined with concrete to prevent a potential disaster if it is ever needed, but officials ignored their requests.

Not unpredictably, the emergency spillway, which is basically just a natural slide down a mountain, is quickly eroding, and towns that lie near the water runoff now find themselves in mortal danger. Hence the evacuations.

This environmental crisis is important for three reasons: it highlights the need to improve oroville-dam-craterall of our nation’s dams.

Second, it emphasizes the danger of global warming, which is responsible for these sudden and severe patterns of weather. How the f&8%$ else did California go from a horrific drought to one of its rainiest seasons in history in just over a year?

Third, it shows that while politicians like to introduce legislation to create new infrastructure – so they can brag about all the fancy bridges and buildings they had built – when, in reality, money needs to be spent on fixing old stuff. It’s not as glamorous, but it’s important. Clearly.

But aside from the big issues like infrastructure and global warming, we need to keep in mind that when nearly 200,000 people are forced to evacuate, that’s tends of thousands of lives that are being suddenly upended. Who can’t go to work. Who must leave their homes with an uncertainty if they’ll ever return.

And if the goal of 2017 is to have more empathy for our fellow men and women who we share this great planet with, then this is an appropriate time to do so.

Leaks in California.

Leaks in the White House.

Stay tuned, folks.

We should all probably start caring about the drought in California

Most of us are lucky to not have to think about water too often.

It’s something that’s always been there when we need it. And that prevalence enables us to take it for granted. No one ever stops for a minute and thinks how much life would suck if we didn’t have access to fresh water.

But we need to start thinking about water a little more. And not just some of us — all of us.

California’s drought affects us all. The state’s farmers produce more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. By virtue of that, the average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water per week.

Ninety-nine percent of the nation’s artichokes come from California. So do 94 percent of broccoli, 99 percent of almonds, 97 percent of apricots, 90 percent of grapes, and so on. Basically, everything that you had in your salad for lunch at work yesterday as a ruse to convince your coworkers you’re on a diet.

In short, we are all contributing to the drought.

And that’s obviously a problem when you consider that agriculture in California, a $46 billion industry, uses 80 percent of all water consumed in the state.

It still would not matter if water in California was at a surplus. But drought in the Colorado River, which supplies water to California and six other states — Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — and Mexico, plus record low snow accumulation in the Sierra Nevada snowpack, another critical water source, is putting the state’s overall water supply in peril. Indeed, 98 percent of California is currently experiencing somewhere between a moderate to exceptional drought.

Global warming also may or may not be a factor.

The state is doing everything it can to reserve its supply, including an increase in water-efficient drip irrigation for farming, mandatory restrictions for water use, and across-the-board regulations.

The drought has also made the state prone to major wildfires and disease.

Still, if you live far away from California, this is probably not a problem that’s going to cause you too much distress. At least not right now. But it’s always good to remember that problems in one part of the country have far-reaching consequences.

And if you’re reading this from California, then besides limiting your water consumption, you should also probably stray from fun-but-unnecessary water-related activities, such as water balloon fights, slip n’ slides, bobbing for apples, ice bucket challenges and wet T-shirt contests.

Actually, scratch that last one. It’s worth a drought.