At the start of the year, rain finally fell. The colors on the drought map started to fade, from the reds of “exceptional” and “extreme” to the oranges of “severe,” even “moderate.” Ponds and creeks appeared in places we’d never known were meant for water.
In those early weeks, the rain came with consequences. Neighborhoods flooded and mudslides wrecked homes. A flower farmer I know couldn’t make his usual trek to our market; a tree had crushed his delivery truck. Power outages caused by more falling trees left another acquaintance with a steep repair bill after a generator malfunction fried her electrical wiring. “But we need it, we need it,” she said of the rain. In church, we thanked God for relief from drought. We’d prayed for it constantly, through smoke-choked air. Now, it was here. “When can we stop praying for rain?” a congregant asked as we stood huddled under the awning afterwards. And so we changed our prayers, petitioning for those who’d lost property and life.
Along with the rain came the analysis. The downpours had not, as we’d naïvely hoped, ended the drought. The reservoirs weren’t yet full, and the fish populations were far from recovered. We simply hadn’t invested in the infrastructure to capture and treat the water for drinking. Now it was draining into the Pacific Ocean—the absurdity! Climate change was to blame for the pace of the storms and the amount of moisture they carried, and thus for the inability of the reservoirs to keep up. More crises were already upon us. Come spring, the Sierra snowpack would melt, and we’d have flooding. And what of the failed Colorado River negotiations, the federally mandated cuts that were soon to come for our state and its thirsty neighbors? Sadly, the restrictions would be necessary. If the river’s level sank low enough, the basin would reach “dead pool,” with no water able to pour through the Hoover Dam.
No, our troubles were far from over. We knew this, even as the rain kept soaking the soil, helping the lupine grow and the orange blossoms bloom.