“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana
When California went through an extreme drought from 1985 to 1991, it seemed as though the consensus was, we never wanted to be that ill-prepared or, really, scared about not having enough water. But as the rains came, and they came hard some winter seasons in the ’90s, the idea that we would have to endure another drought escaped us. We went about our business, cultivated our lawns, planted high-water-use crops, hosed off our driveways, fracked the ground, didn’t worry about ocean water infiltrating our water tables as groundwater dried up. Now in the fifth year of drought, because of our lack of care, we are on mandatory water conservation restrictions, we are spending large amounts of cash on drought resistant gardens in months rather than spacing out such improvements over years, water wasters are being shamed by neighbors and sometimes friends. We are in a severe crisis but, if we learned anything from the past, anything about nature and its cycles, would we have to be? It’s clear we never seem to learn quite enough from our dire situations and so are destined to repeat them.
With the winter/rainy season looming, here we are on the brink of yet another natural phenomenon that has disaster written all over it. It’s also almost identical to the scenario in the 1990s — extended period of drought followed by flooding.
While there has been talk about a monster or “Godzilla” El Niño for what seems like years now, we have yet to see this torrential downpour. But from all indicators and what the experts rely on to predict the weather, as discussed in this week’s feature, “Forecast: Godzilla,” the rains are coming and with them any number of natural disasters. Looking back at just last week, Interstate 5 was shut down after a flash flood brought with it a massive mudslide; or at late last year when some Camarillo Springs residents had to be dug out of their homes after rains resulted in a mudslide; or when La Conchita endured two landslides in 1995 and 2005, both after periods of heavy rainfall; or the flooding that resulted in drowning deaths of those living in the Ventura River bottom after the last Godzilla El Niños. Trying to prevent mudslides or floods is impossible, but we all need to take some personal responsibility for the danger we may be in. Ignorance is not an excuse, especially when lives are at stake.
Understanding and preparing for vulnerability is critical, from piling up sandbags to preparing for immediate evacuations. Using the Internet to learn how to prepare and to get the latest information on flooding info is critical; go to www.vcfloodinfo.com and www.water.ca.gov/floodsafe/ca-flood-preparedness/fpw_home.cfm. Search for Community Emergency Response Training programs in your area to learn basic skills in time of disaster.
But even more than just individuals working to prepare themselves, we look to city planners, lawmakers and the like to think ahead to what their communities will look like when disaster hits. With city planners, what projects that are on the horizon could be better developed to avoid being vulnerable? With lawmakers, are disaster plans drawn up and FEMA requests ready to go? Where will your constituents get the emergency supplies they need?
While it may be too late to make major changes to prevent disaster this year, hopefully we will learn and be better-equipped in the future so we don’t have to keep living the same mistakes.