Fire season, meet drought season. This is the new normal.
In the past couple of years, society has locked on to the term “new normal.” We hear it daily in our conversations with others, on the evening news and on social media. Pick most any subject that has changed in the past several years and someone will mention the “new normal.”
When discussing fire season, we in Sonoma County are all too familiar with the new normal when it comes large scale vegetation fires. Since the Tubbs Fire in 2017, Sonoma County has experienced more than its fair share of catastrophic fires. The current drought situation in California is certainly alarming and the affect it has had on our vegetation around the state is of significant importance. Is this a new phenomenon for our county? It depends on who you talk to or what scientific data you read. Is it normal? Currently, yes, it is? But is that to say it won’t change at some point in our lifetime? Scientific data says it will.
While climate change is real and certainly affecting our wildland fire environment, data shows that drought in California is a common cycle that dates to the mid 1800’s and occurs each decade. The causes, beyond climate change, are due to seasonal weather conditions, economic and political actions, population and farming or a combination thereof.
Since 1979, there have been very few large scale water storage projects constructed, yet California’s population has doubled since that time. The water distribution system in California is inefficient, relying on a system of pumps to move water from the north part of the state to the south. When heavy winter storms affect the state, large volumes of water are often lost to the Pacific Ocean as the current system of pumps are overwhelmed and river flows exceed the capacity of the pumps.
Even with the significant increase in our state’s population, 80% of our state’s water goes to agriculture, which in Sonoma County is an absolute necessity. The lack of water collection and storage in California is catching up to us. We cannot continue to see a rise in population and not address the issue of water for both citizens and agriculture. Wet winters will once again bless the state and it is our responsibility to ensure that we have the infrastructure in place to collect the excess in run-off from winter storms and snow melt.