Across The Universe: No fooling — if it’s yellow, let it mellow |

Across The Universe: No fooling — if it’s yellow, let it mellow

TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — While Wednesday may be April Fools’ Day, there’s nothing humorous or silly about the situation that faces us as the Western drought continues to grip the state of California and the greater Truckee-Tahoe region.

The latest reality check came this week: Snowpack water content as of Tuesday was just 3 percent of normal for the Lake Tahoe Basin, and 14 percent for the Truckee River Basin.

Further, on Monday, the California Department of Water Resources reported the Sierra Nevada snowpack was at its lowest late-March level since records began in 1950, at just 6 percent of the late-March average.

It’s a situation that Jeff Anderson, snow surveyor for the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, defined in one word when quoted Tuesday by the Reno Gazette-Journal: “Scary.” He added that he figured our snowpack was at its “worst in a century.”

Despite these kinds of reports and commentary from the experts, I still hear some people in the Tahoe region bemoan them, while others chastise news outlets (including us) for sharing the information, coupled with photos of, for example, a dried-up dam in Tahoe City or Truckee River beds barely boasting any moisture.

To put it another way, here’s a paraphrase of one of the complaints I still hear from some sources: “News like that isn’t going to do anything for the tourism numbers we need this summer to battle a terrible ski season.”

These kinds of mindsets are very concerning to me because I feel the larger point of our environmental health is lost in translation.

By now, just about everyone is familiar with the famous (or infamous) oped written by Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, that was published March 12 in the Los Angeles Times.

Famiglietti pulls zero punches in telling us the following: January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895; NASA data reveals that total water storage in California has been in steady decline since at least 2002; California has lost around 12 million acre-feet of stored water every year since 2011; and, most devastatingly, California now has only enough water to get it through the next year.

The news from NASA has spawned a lot of commentary and worried discussion as we begin to put a larger focus on water conservation across the state, as well as here in the Sierra Nevada.

Granted, California’s scorching-hot valleys and farmlands are a lot worse for the wear than up here near Lake Tahoe (where our public utility districts continue to say we’re currently nowhere near a water shortage), but residents, visitors and second-home owners need to take this following statement very seriously: We are running out of water, and those who choose to stay ignorant of that are only going to make problems worse.

To put it all into perspective, on Tuesday, the California Department of Water Resources put out a 136-page report titled, “California’s Most Significant Droughts: Comparing Historical and Recent Conditions.

It provides comparative data for some of the state’s most significant droughts, stretching from 1929 to 1934; 1976 to 1977; 1987 to 1992; and the current drought.

What I get from it is this: We need to treat April 1 as the start of summer, and think in terms of it staying that way until we get sustained precipitation across at least two, if not three or more winters.

So what does that mean for Truckee-Tahoe? It means we need to make some tough decisions, and ask some tough questions. Here are a few that come to mind:

• What kind of conservation measures will our golf courses employ to still stay in business and churn a profit, while also not depriving the environment by over-watering fairways and greens?

• With several major development plans and projects approved or nearing approval, will developers hold off on building until we’re out of a drought?

• How aggressive will visitor associations, Realtors and home-owner associations be when educating the public about wildfire dangers and bear awareness, knowing this summer will likely be the worst yet for both issues?

• Will residents start employing measures such as taking shorter showers, washing fewer laundry loads, flushing toilets fewer times and watering lawns less frequently, among others, to do their part?

There are many things everyone can do to save water, but to put it in oh-so simple terms, that age-old adage — “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” — is now more important than ever.

Kevin MacMillan is managing editor of the Sierra Sun. He may be reached for comment at

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