Dry dock on Shasta Lake

Trillion is the new terabyte

Trillion is the new terabyte.

Just this month Congress and the President say they’ll spend $1.1 trillion this fiscal year while stories are now popping up suggesting it’s going to take 11 trillion gallons of rain to end California’s drought.

What’s millions and billions anymore when we can talk trillions?

Many of us old enough to recall the first personal computers with hard drives that would store 20 megabytes of data recently graduated to computer hardware that will hold terabytes of data because those measly megabytes just won’t cut it anymore, not when digital cameras produce single images in the range of 20 megabytes.

What am I getting at? Well (that’s a deep and expensive subject we’ll save for later), it would appear that the latest mantra is how many gallons of rain will have to fall on California to break our drought.

11 trillion gallons, according to NASA.

Who can wrap their head around numbers as large as a trillion? I know I can’t.

In the weeks leading up to this bit of information newspapers held to the same talking points that the recent rain and snow did not matter a hill of beans to the current drought, even as lakes like Oroville and Shasta were rising feet per day.

Now in the past few days I’ve seen this 11-trillion gallon figure on a host of newspapers and online. At least now we know.

It’s like the stories I heard growing up when Shasta Lake fell to its historic levels in 1977 and how experts claimed it would take 20 years for the lake to fill. I have pictures I took of the spillway gates atop Shasta Dam being opened in 1982 after the lake reached its capacity of 4,552,000 acre feet.

Just how close to that 11-trillion-gallon figure is truth is anyone’s guess. California water is not a zero-sum game where once we reach a given figure we’re just fine. Let’s just say we need a lot of water to fill the surface and underground profiles we’ve over-drafted to keep crops going and water flowing from our indoor taps.

The number points to our abject failure to keep up with water needs throughout California. While we can applaud the efforts of southern California water districts such as Metropolitan to capture and store additional water and embark on recycling programs, it’s not enough. Just like the stories of the latest rain and snow to hit California, they’re not enough to break the drought.

How much more water could we have captured in the past several weeks had Sites Reservoir in Colusa County been built (they’ve been talking about that for decades)? Imagine the runoff that could have been pumped and stored there at the same time state officials were pumping runoff at over 6,000 cubic feet per second into San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos.

How much more water would we have in storage had projects like the raising of Shasta Dam – I recall those discussions bantered about in the 1970s – been acted upon with the same fervor and will we had when the West was building dams 75 years ago?

With terms like “sustainability” being tossed around as frequently as they are one would think that achieving such worthwhile goals cannot happen by themselves without purposeful, measurable and common sense goals to get there.

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