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I don’t like to quibble with the Good Book. Though Matthew 5:45 alleges “He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike”, that was not the case last week. Without regard to which Californians might be of higher virtue, Fresno-Madera’s half-inch storm total was exceeded in Los Angeles by four times and by ninefold in San Francisco! Yosemite National Park’s Superintendent Don Neubacher extolled the restoration of roaring flows over long-silent Yosemite Falls. Even in generous precipitation years, the watershed feeding that cascade, commencing at 7,000 feet, should be a frozen wonderland by December, releasing little more than a midday trickle. With rain turning to snow only above 8,000 feet, Yosemite’s untimely roar sounds an ominous warning. Where do we put water if Sierra snowpack doesn’t store it for us until next summer? Reservoirs behind dams, designed to fill, empty and refill repeatedly over long snowmelt seasons prove inadequate. Increasingly, our only practical option is to pay greater management attention to the vast aquifer beneath California’s Central Valley. A recent (11/16/14), celebrated CBS 60 Minutes segment aimed to stimulate such attention when Lesley Stahl reported on hydrologists Jay Famiglietti and Claudia Faunt’s prophetic research on fast-depleting water tables hereabouts. Farther Afield readers learned of landmark studies published over several years by this pair from UC Irvine and US Geological Survey (USGS) respectively. Visiting Fresno Co. and one of Arthur & Orum’s seven rigs furiously sinking wells to depth’s that exceed Empire State Building-height, Stahl characterized the scene as a “groundwater rush”, enquiring of Famiglietti if such aquifers replenish naturally. The hydrologist replied “that could take tens or hundreds of years”. Though many thousands of acres have been fallowed due to drought, these are mostly on the Valley’s west side. Row crops have all but disappeared over the last two decades on our more populous east side, replaced by permanent plantings, predominantly almonds, which perish if left unwatered. When canal flows are restricted or unavailable altogether, as in 2014 Madera, immense pressure is put on underground supplies to maintain high-value trees and vines. California’s Department of Water Resources’ just- issued (11/25/14) “Public Update for Drought Response” identifies Madera as amongst regions with greatest groundwater loss, land subsidence and lack of monitoring efforts. Our Board of Supervisors last week ordered all new and refurbished wells be equipped with recording flow meters. That is an insufficient response to a grave crisis. –Tom Willey
60 Minutes: cbsn.ws/1EPbvvK DWR “Drought Response”: bit.ly/1AD3olq