Fire season came early this year. As Howard Hardee details in this issue’s feature story (“The watcher”), North State smoke spotter Ken Jordan took his post in early May—month of the region’s biggest blaze so far, the 595-acre River Fire in Colusa County. Wildfires have popped up all over: Through July, Cal Fire already had counted 90 statewide burning over 50,000 acres.
With fire, thoughts turn to water. California’s third year of drought has exacerbated tinderbox conditions. Reservoirs are conspicuously shallow. Levels in aquifers—invisible yet vital, especially to most every local resident, whether connected to a well or a utility—have dropped, too. Gov. Gavin Newsom has emergency orders in effect, primarily on water purveyors and industrial landowners.
What does all this mean for us, here, at our homes in Butte County?
It depends where you live—and not just the community. Foothills differ from the valley, but circumstances can vary neighborhood to neighborhood, even neighbor to neighbor. Take Chico, which Cal Water covers with its groundwater operation; some properties still rely on wells. Not every well is the same depth or specification, and some have gone dry.
Obviously, wasting water is foolhardy anywhere in a drought. Chicoans across the board do a great job conserving, having reduced our average daily use 35 percent since 2015. Many of us have the basics down, such as not leaving hoses running and faucets dripping.
Other decisions are individual—situation dependent. Do you have a lawn that’s recreational or ornamental? The answer may guide how much, or whether, to water it. (Either way, don’t neglect the trees.) Are finances preventing you from updating your plumbing fixtures or well? Check with Cal Water (calwater.com/conservation) and Butte County (buttecounty.net/drought) for assistance programs.
The North State is better positioned than most of California when it comes to water. After all, the State Water Project starts up here; we’re situated at the source. But we’re not awash in aqua. As climate change shifts patterns, we need to monitor—and not squander—this most precious resource.