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Opinion: We need the rain that’s about to come. What we don’t need is drought amnesia

Vehicles cross the Enterprise Bridge on the one-third full Lake Oroville in Northern California on June 30.
(Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. Hooray, the Dodgers are not dead yet. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Something terrible is about to happen in Los Angeles: We’ll soon get rain, a lot of it (by our semi-arid standards) and all at once. “But we need rain,” you say — and you’re right! Our lawns are dying, the hills are brown, and everyone except me has dandruff (please tell me I’m not the only one who’s noticed). We need relief, and this storm — predicted to hit the West Coast this weekend and start affecting Southern California late Sunday night, dumping almost an inch (I know! An inch!) of rain before dissipating Monday afternoon — will bring a measure of it.

Hence the problem: The relief will largely accrue to our drought-stricken psyches, not the actual drought. If there’s anything I’ve learned from seemingly one record dry season after another these decades, it’s that we semi-desert dwellers find any excuse to think things just might be fine after a good one-off soaking or a decent dusting of snow on the San Gabriel high peaks — that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide drought emergency declaration was premature, that maybe we can push off those drastic climate-change adaptions one more year and live like a normal February when three or four inches of rain is right around the corner.

And it might be, but it probably isn’t — but who knows anyway? Global warming will alter “normal” precipitation and water patterns in California in ways that we will understand only when we experience them, because predictions are becoming much harder to make. As The Times Editorial Board noted in a distressingly frank piece on California’s new water reality, we just emerged from the state’s second-driest year on record, and the “prospects for the current water year, which began on Oct. 1, aren’t any better.”

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So when the brief deluge hits this weekend (and in the process probably moves around a few mountainsides newly destabilized by massive wildfires), don’t think “there is no drought” — although, as a previous editorial noted, if almost every year is dry then that statement is technically accurate. The changes we’ve made over the years — ultra-low-flow toilets and shower heads, xeriscaped yards and the like — were done with the typical feast-or-famine water cycles in mind, not a long-term alteration of California’s climate in which Sierra Nevada snowmelts are accelerated and warmer temperatures extract more moisture from our soil.

As to that future, our editorial board expresses uncertainty and some resignation: “So as we plant the xeriscape in the front yard and let our cars stay dirty for a little while longer, we wonder about the plan going forward into the dry 21st century.”

Climate change doesn’t care about your backpacking trip. Geoffrey Mohan, a former L.A. Times reporter and editor, has a dispatch on the New York Times’ op-ed page from the Sierra Nevada about the second straight summer of major closures of U.S. Forest Service land in California. Last week, I wrote about my recent excursion to the White Mountains on the California-Nevada state line to hike the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, a trip that might be less alluring to make as climate change takes hold. Mohan’s piece is from the same grim genre; I highly recommend reading it, if only to help you understand what California is in the process of losing forever. New York Times

Cut Mark Ridley-Thomas some slack because he allegedly cheated to help his son? It’s not like the newly suspended L.A. city councilman stole a loaf of bread to feed his hungry child, but columnist Nicholas Goldberg admits feeling some empathy for Ridley-Thomas when he found out that his federal corruption indictment was over an alleged bribery scheme to benefit his adult son, who had recently resigned from the state Legislature and hit a rough patch. L.A. Times

Who will take up the cause of immigrants in the post-Trump era? Donald Trump’s presidency was defined by its bashing of immigrants, and now Democrats have a chance to be their champion. But columnist Jean Guerrero doesn’t think the president’s party is moving quickly enough: “Nine months into the Biden administration, with control of both chambers of Congress, they have yet to protect millions of undocumented people who helped the nation survive the pandemic by harvesting our food, cleaning our hospitals and more.” L.A. Times

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Uber and Lyft, you’re running out of excuses to exist. Columnist Robin Abcarian recently flew into LAX and endured an experience getting home reminiscent of the bad old days of yellow taxis, including the exorbitant fare for the short car trip home. If it’s getting so expensive and inconvenient to take Uber and Lyft in lieu of taxis, and if experience shows that ride-hailing services in fact worsen congestion in cities rather than relieve it as originally theorized, then what’s the point? L.A. Times

Mark Zuckerberg makes a “mwahahaha” metaverse move, and Virginia Heffernan isn’t pleased: “How in the world could this be good? Facebook already has about 2.89 billion active monthly users who have elected to join a bank-blue matrix that gives them access to collectives, connections and opportunities and also leaves them hollowed out of their data and in the crosshairs of disinformation and agitations aimed straight for their brains.” L.A. Times

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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