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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Publisher’s Notebook

• Beyond a Drought •

ANNE SOBLE

It has now been declared that the drought that has wreaked havoc in the state of California for three years is officially over. Most Malibuites may not have been particularly impacted by the drought, except for noticing the occasional placement of “conserve water” signs at population pockets along Pacific Coast Highway.
Although Malibuites are often predisposed to describe the area as a “rural” community, there is rural and there is rural. The Malibu dwellers who live a more traditional version of a rural lifestyle watched their wells either dry up or come perilously close to doing so. Irrigation lines for horses, llamas, goats and sheep were modified to take advantage of every drop of water. Larger acreage water needs called for special accommodation. Landscaping and crop choices were dictated by drought tolerance.
Even so, these constraints paled in comparison to the drought’s impact on the state’s small farmers. In many cases, water had to be trucked in on a regular basis, which is not only difficult, but also very expensive. And some food fanciers contended that produce doesn’t taste as good when it is not irrigated with the water from the same area.
For those who experienced the rockslides and mudflows that accompanied the record rainfalls, the ending of the drought may be small solace as their homes and lives are still being cleaned up and repaired. The celebration of the drought’s demise would be more jubilant, if it was not accompanied by the kinds of personal catastrophe that are all too familiar to most Malibuites.
This is why there should be extensive preventive planning in all areas made vulnerable by recent wildfires or the kind of poor planning that did not take this kind of rainfall into account. Some kinds of planning mistakes only become obvious during a disaster, but the fact is so-called 100-year storms occur as often as every 10 years.
The water conservation measures that were implemented on the local and state levels should not be abandoned because we have enjoyed a year of record rainfall. This precipitation has replenished much needed reserves, but cannot be treated cavalierly. If we have learned anything about meteorology, it is that one should be wary of predictions for future winter rains, as we might find ourselves surprised by the opposite of this year’s bounty.
Water is so critical to life that it should be perceived as priceless, whatever the clouds have to offer. This is in keeping with the conservation approach we should take to all finite resources. If we do, we will always be better prepared to cope with the unpredictable shortfalls that are inevitable.

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