Over some 50 consecutive months of drought, California did not start work on a single major reservoir — though many had long ago been planned and designed. Instead, given the lack of water-storage capacity, and due to environmental diversions, tens of millions of acre-feet of precious runoff water last year were simply let out to the ocean. This year, the state may want all of that water back. Silicon Valley is the state’s signature cash cow, emblematic of progressive-cool culture and tech savvy. Yet many streets around high-tech corporate campuses are lined with parked Winnebagos that serve as worker housing compounds. In nearby Redwood City, World War II–era cottages have become virtual hostels. Trailers, tiny garages, and converted patios serve as quasi-apartments. California may offer the world a smartphone app for every need, but it cannot ensure affordable shelter for those who help to create the world’s social-media outlets and smartphones. How can so smart be so stupid?
The crisis at Oroville is a third act in the state’s history: One majestic generation built great dams, a second enjoyed them while they aged, and a third fiddles as they now erode.