Water has become a big story in California, as the driest calendar year on record (2013) has extended into two additional months of clear skies. There has never been a 14-month period with so little rain.
But the extent of the drought was not clear back in early December, when I began talking to experts about the state of the groundwater basins in Ventura County. At that time, there was still the hope that a rainy winter was just on the horizon. I recall a point that United Water Conservation District General Manager Mike Solomon made in a conversation in mid-December: Even if the winter ahead brought a reasonably normal amount of rainfall, it wouldn't be enough to help.
The report that my colleague Gretchen Wenner and I put together on the state of groundwater in the county was published in today's Star (free to subscribers). A companion article explains how environmental regulations imposed by the federal government in an attempt to allow for the recovery of the endangered Southern California steelhead have made the prospect of recharging the county's overdrawn aquifers even more challenging.
What's truly sobering about all this is that groundwater, while always an important source of water statewide, takes on heightened importance during times of drought. In theory, undergound basins serve as insurance against drought and can be tapped more heavily when surface water is in short supply.
Water managers in Ventura County and the regulators at the Fox Canyon Groundwater Management Agency were already facing a crisis. The drought, as bad as it is, simply gives that crisis more urgency.