California's "drought" is overblown. The alarmists calling it a historic disaster are trying to pull a fast one.
Rain fell constantly through February. The drought broke. Yet at month's end, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ominously declared a "drought emergency."
Earlier, Lester Snow, head of the state Department of Water Resources, proclaimed, "We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history."
Not even close. In reality - a word seldom placed in the same sentence as water in California - rainfall is nearly normal for this time of year.
Don't take my word for it. Here are the current 15-year average watershed precipitation levels, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation:
» Sacramento River: 77 percent
» American River: 102 percent
» Stanislaus River: 96 percent
» San Joaquin River: 91 percent
That is not a drought. That is below-average rainfall. And not far below average: 91.5 percent. But it is true Stockton's only at 75 percent.
Officials say the snowpack is critically low. False. The snow-water equivalent, according to the DWR itself, is 90 percent.
Officials say rainfall has been below average for three years. That is true. There should be water anyway. More on that later.
Officials say there are more people in California now. Well, yes. The addition of more people, however, does not constitute a drought, only perhaps an expansion beyond resources.
Officials say reservoirs are dry. False. Here are the 15-year average percentages for regional reservoirs.
» Shasta: 69
» Oroville: 68
» Folsom: 108
» New Melones: 74
» Millerton: 88.
The average is 81.4 percent of normal - and rising. The inflow into Lake Shasta as of midnight Saturday was 13,239 cubic feet per second. Reservoirs are filling.
They may not fill brimful. But that is far from "the worst California drought in modern history."
Besides, state officials, SoCal water importers and other Chicken Littles don't mention they drained Northern California reservoirs prior to February's storms.
"In the first year of the drought, we passed water like a drunken sailor," said Bill Jennings, head of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
Some perspective: In the 1990s, the state and feds exported 4 million acre-feet of Delta water annually. In this decade - and well into the drought - officials imprudently powered up exports to more than 6 million acre-feet a year.
They irresponsibly sucked reservoirs down. They nearly killed the Delta. They stopped only when a federal judge called a halt.
"We cannibalized Northern California to sock it away in the Kern water bank and Diamond Valley water bank down south," Jennings said, "giving no thought to the question of a second or third year."
This controversy is about more than a peripheral canal. It is about a state that forgot how water rights work. Or special interests who are attempting to overthrow them.
Many of these distant users are last in line. Their contracts promise surplus in wet years. Yet they now feel entitled to water deliveries every year.
The irony is, the entitlements are bogus. Be they big metropolitan water agencies or small farmers, they've been had. Or they've been foolish.
The 80-year average for Delta water is 29 million acre-feet annually. The state and feds wrote contracts promising 130 million acre-feet: 41/2 times reality.
Other contracts bring total export contracts to an insane 245 million acre-feet, an ocean of paper water promised to people who gauged their farms, businesses or urban water consumption accordingly.
This delusion has been abetted by a series of governors from Southern California, misguided regulators and politicians caving to constituents.
So the "solution" to the ginned-up drought really amounts to an old-fashioned California water grab based on the failure to face nature's limits.
The Delta and the law be damned.
"It's an attempt to rewrite 150 years of California water law and legal precedent," declared Jennings, "by giving the most junior and inferior water rights equal footing with the most senior water rights. And to do that, its screws the Delta and Northern California."
Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.