Less than a year ago, climate scientists were heralding the “Godzilla El Niño,” which would generate historic rainfalls that could help alleviate California’s mega-drought.

Climate reality has failed to confirm climate theory, as the term “dud” is now being used to describe the weather pattern.

Is this El Niño a dud?

Sacramento is in the peak of its rainy season, but there is no substantial rain in the forecast for the next two weeks. The Sierra snowpack has fallen below normal levels for this time of year. The state’s three largest reservoirs remain far below capacity.

Whither El Niño?

Throughout the summer and fall of 2015, California residents waited in anticipation as they heard about the strong El Niño weather pattern brewing in the Pacific Ocean. We remembered the winters of 1997-98 and 1982-83, when such strong El Niños corresponded with deluges. And we hoped for relief from our long, brutal drought.

But through Feb. 20, Sacramento has seen half the precipitation that occurred by this point in 1997-98 and 1982-83.

At this point, it looks as if California is going to have to continue implementing a wide array of water-saving measures, which include “cash-for-grass” and drought-shaming neighbors.

However, courtesy of our proposition system, Californians may get a chance to divert funds from a loser project into sensible infrastructure construction that may actually alleviate some our state’s water crisis.

The measure would redirect $8 billion in unsold high-speed rail bonds and $2.7 billion from the 2014 water bond to fund new water storage projects, while restructuring the oversight of those projects and prioritizing water usage in the state Constitution — a move critics say will be confusing and prone to legal challenges.

Proponents of the measure are trying to capitalize on the unpopularity of the high-speed rail project and the popularity of the water bond to substantially boost the funding for water storage projects, which they say weren’t adequately funded by the 2014 bond.

“What this initiative does is pick up where (the water bond) left off and fully funds the other necessary projects that are widely accepted as needing to be done,” said Aubrey Bettencourt, the executive director of the California Water Alliance. “There’s no new projects listed in our initiative.”

Fiscal realities of the project have also not lived up to rose-colored projections, and after facing high construction costs and political opposition in Southern California, the state has decided to build the first 250-mile section of the California bullet train from San Jose to Bakersfield (rather than from Fresno to Burbank).

Rail officials also say the latest cost estimate for the entire 500-mile project has been reduced from $68 billion to $64 billion, well below the $98 billion projection from several years ago, but still far above initial estimates of less than $40 billion.

The business report states that the change in the initial segment will avoid expensive tunneling and viaduct construction though the geologically complex Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountains, where several potential routes have been proposed through the Angeles National Forest.

A Stanford University Hoover Institution poll found that 53% of voters would approve of shifting the rail bonds to water projects.

I suspect that number will increase substantially, as the realities of the continuing water crisis impress people more than bureaucratic theory.


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