Over the Hill

Dry weather renews fears of drought for this Paso rain watcher

Tribune columnist Phil Dirkx.
Tribune columnist Phil Dirkx. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Sunshine pours through my window as I write this. Anemic clouds decorate the sky but don’t promise any rain. I’m starting to dread another possible drought.

The current rain season started last July 1, but so far my amateur rain gauge has caught only 2.16 inches of rain, including the 1.5 inches from the storm of Jan. 8 and 9.

I’m just a hobby rain recorder, but my season total is close to the official rain readings. I’m just 0.05 of an inch short of the Paso Robles season total as reported in Sunday’s Tribune. And I’m only 0.32 of an inch below the 2.48 reported by the Paso Robles City Water Division.

Paso Robles is halfway through this rain season and still hasn’t received 2.5 inches of rain. By this time last year, my rain gauge had caught a total of 11.29 inches. And by the same time the year before that, my rain gauge had caught 7.51 inches. So I’m dreading another drought.

And whenever I drive on River Road in Paso Robles I see there’s no water visible in the Salinas Riverbed. I’ve been told water still flows beneath the surface, but seeing it would reassure me.

I can remember when the Salinas wasn’t such a shy river. In 1966 the city built a “new” two-lane concrete bridge for 13th Street, to replace the really old, narrow, iron bridge. Just a year or two later, we had an exceptionally heavy rainfall, and the Salinas River flexed its muscles.

It uprooted many trees including mature oaks and carried them as it roared downstream. They collided with the new bridge’s legs and piled up against them. They looked to be just a foot or two below the traffic level.

City officials feared the pressure against the new bridge would wreck it. They hired a big crane with a clamshell bucket to grab the debris from the upstream side of the bridge and drop it over the downstream side. In San Miguel the river did knock down a section of that community’s bridge.

The city of Paso Robles now has two multi-lane bridges over the Salinas River; one for 13th Street and one for Niblick Road. And the state also has a Salinas River bridge in Paso Robles for Highway 46. I wonder if the river will ever be full enough again to threaten those bridges.

Maybe it won’t. More water is now diverted for irrigation and industrial use and for the increasing population.

In 1930 when I was born, there were only 2 billion people on Earth, according to the National Geographic magazine. Now the U.S. Census Bureau says the Earth has 7.4 billion people. They all need water. Paso Robles got its share of that population increase.

So here we are halfway through this rainy season with not quite 2.5 inches of rain. It hasn’t been a year since we came out of our last drought, which lasted five years. That’s why I dread another drought.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every other week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.

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