Take a Break, Noah

There may be gold in them thar hills, but the people of the nation’s most-populous state would gladly trade all of it right now for an ample supply of water.

California is facing what experts are calling a “500-year drought,” meaning the last time the Golden State was this dry Columbus was still walking around bragging that he didn’t sail off the flat end of the Earth.

For the first time in its 54-year history of managing what’s known as the State Water Project, the California Department of Water Resources has announced it’s cutting off water allocations to local agencies serving 25 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland.

Mark Cowin, the state water resources chief, said he’s zeroed out allocations so his agency can use whatever water is left “as wisely as possible.” The 29 local agencies drawing water from the system have been told to fend for themselves. This means squeezing out whatever they can from groundwater wells, local reservoirs and other wet spots in the neighborhood. They’re also drilling new wells as fast as they can.

But the locals may run out of divining rods if current predictions prove accurate–the nation’s leading climatologists are saying the drought may stretch into April. If that happens, it’s going to take a bottled-water truck, rail and air-cargo caravan on the scale of the Marshall Plan to keep California palates wet.

The eastern San Francisco Bay Area, which relies almost exclusively on the State Water Project, likely is the first in line to face a systemic collapse. Southern California, which you probably assumed was much drier than the northern part of the state, actually gets only about 30 percent of its water from the State Water Project through its Metropolitan Water District.

According to reports, the state’s water disaster strategy focuses on keeping as much of its remaining supplies upstream in reservoirs so there ‘s something left for the summer, when (wait for it) everyone will get a lot thirstier.

January traditionally has been the rainiest month in California, but the first month of 2014 ended with barely a drop on the Left Coast. This followed the end of the driest year on record in the Golden State, leaving the snow pack in California’s mountains at 12 percent of their normal level this winter.

The state also is preparing for the ripple effect from the drought. Fishing is being prohibited because of low water levels and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection is hiring more firefighters as fast as it can. Farmers are selling off herds of cattle and deciding how many fields it makes sense to plant seeds in throughout the nation’s largest vegetable garden.

We’d pause here to cough up a screed about how we all need to pay more attention to climate change, but that’s probably not necessary. The climate obviously is changing whether we’re paying attention or not.

If the impending spectacle of an airlift of C-17 cargo jets parachuting pallets filled with Poland Spring into Mendocino doesn’t open our peepers, nothing will.