Hey El Niño – where is all the rain going?

We know that with climate change, comes flash floods, heavy rain, and rivers overflowing; Yet the western US always seems to be in a constant drought. How can this be? The rain that falls on the Earth each year is almost always the same – so what’s up?

Streams and rivers are the planet’s plumbing. They move water from where it rains (or snows, sleets, hails, mists, sprinkles, etc.) into lakes or desert sands or larger rivers, eventually draining to the sea.


The west is blessed with three major river systems:

  1. Snake River
  2. Sacramento River
  3. Colorado River

Each of these major river systems, along with numerous minor ones, have an average flowing rate of 14 to 35 billion gallons per day. That’s a lot of water! Even our minor rivers – the Santa Ynez, Walker, Weber, Owens, Carson, Salinas, Truckee, Bear and the San Joaquin flow from 82 million gallons to 3.3 billion gallons per day are a real water resource.

With all that water running from rain or snow melts into our rivers, why isn’t there enough water for every need?  Great question! There are lots of possible answers, but fewer practical solutions.  We humans need to use less water, store more water or find environmentally friendly and sustainable new sources of water. Or perhaps we just need move to someplace with more ample water supplies. This last choice may not be an altogether real world solution.

So the question seems simple: how much water do human’s need (drinking, bathing, industry and farming) vs. the natural habitat (animals, fish, forests and the planet)? Good question but each need (or user) will always demand more than actually or maybe required… human nature comes into play, plus who makes these life and death decisions?

If the west is to grow, prosper and remain livable, we must decide how much water we need and develop a plan for supplying that water. Decisions made, there will be winners and losers, but our western society must make these choices. And, our eco-system, our economy and our society depend on our making the right ones.

So, in the west we face difficult choices and even tougher solutions. Unless we can talk about this without name calling or rancor we may end up destroying what we love about living in the west. The natural beauty, vast, untamed wilderness, the abundant wildlife, the prosperity, the vibrant, diverse society, and all the other things we value about living in the west are at risk without enough water. It’s time to begin a meaningful non-political dialog about our water and our future.