There’s No ‘Big Fix’ For Water Crises

SAN FRANCISCO – January 27 was the 100th anniversary of Hatfield’s flood. You may have missed the occasion unless you were with Cynthia Barnett. Barnett, an environmental journalist, has written three books about water and last week she was in Corte Madera, California discussing her most recent book, “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History,” which was nominated for the National Book award.

In “Rain,” Barnett writes about Californian Charles Hatfield. Hatfield was a “rainmaker” – someone who persuaded the public that he could conjure precipitation with a mix of special chemicals. In 1915 Hatfield convinced the San Diego City Council to pay him $10,000 if he could bring enough water to San Diego by year’s end to fill Morena Reservoir. “He built his derrick, he climbed it, he was cooking up all these chemicals in a pan and right away it began to rain and rain and rain and flood,” said Barnett. “This is in January 1916. The reservoir filled, it overtopped and then the dam broke.” The flood wiped out houses, the city’s bridges and killed more than 20 people. Hatfield fled town chased by armed vigilantes.

Hatfield, of course, didn’t know how to make rain, and meteorologists know now it was back-to-back atmospheric rivers that caused that flood, explained Barnett. But the story still resonates for an important reason. People were inclined to believe that huge problems like drought can be easily solved. We still are.

“Every time we’re in a drought, and that goes for then and now, we seem to have this great wish for the Big Fix,” said Barnett, who is also a Water Deeply advisor. “There is always someone who is going to pop up and say they have this great idea and they’re going to solve our —> Read More