California Drought

The floating fishing pier at Quarry Lakes Regional Park is closed due to low water levels caused by the ongoing drought and construction drainage, in Fremont, CA, Thursday, January 16, 2014. Photo: Michael Short, The Chronicle

Peter Fimrite
Updated 8:47 am, Sunday, January 19, 2014

The American River looks to Jonas Minton very much like it did nearly four decades ago when he took a kayak out into what was then a trickling stream and scraped across the rocks on the bottom.

That year, 1977, was one of the driest in California history, a drought that inspired a water conservation movement, along with low-flow toilets and showerheads, water-saving washing machines and dishwashers, drip irrigation and recycled water.

Still, Minton, a water adviser for the Planning and Conservation League, says it’s with a sense of deja vu that he looks out now over the normally mighty American, which hit its lowest level in decades last week. “I wondered then if we would learn from that hard lesson,” Minton said about his time on the river in 1977.

“Now, 37 years later, I again look at the same hard rocks in the dry channel. I realize we have clung to the notion that we do not have to live within our means.”

While Californians are environmentally conscious and mindful of conserving natural resources, water demand has never been greater. The state’s population has nearly doubled since the ’70s, from 20 million to 38 million, and agricultural needs remain significant: The Golden State produces nearly half of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables.
Way below normal

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