Victor Davis Hanson

Californians have not built a major reservoir since the New Melones Dam more than 30 years ago. As the state subsequently added almost 20 million people, it assumed that it was exempt from creating any more "unnatural" Sierra lakes and canals to store precious water during California's rarer wet and snow-filled years.

Then, short-sightedness soon became conceit. Green utopians went further and demanded that an ailing 3-inch bait fish in the San Francisco delta receive more fresh oxygenated water. In the last five years, they have successfully gone to court to force millions of acre-feet of contracted irrigation water to be diverted from farms to flow freely out to sea.

Others had even grander ideas of having salmon again in their central rivers, as they recalled fishing stories of their ancestors from when the state population was a fifth of its present size and farming a fraction of its present acreage. So they too sued to divert even more water to the sea in hopes of having game fish swim from the Pacific Ocean up to arid Fresno County on their way to the supposedly ancestral Sierra spawning grounds.

The wages of both nature's drought and human folly are coming due. Unless it rains or snows in biblical fashion in the next 60 days, we could see surreal things in California -- towns without water, farms reverting to scrub, majestic parks with dead landscaping -- fit for Hollywood's disaster movies.

Instead of an adult state with millions of acre-feet stored in new reservoirs, California is still an adolescent culture that believes that it has the right to live as if it were the age of the romantic 19th-century naturalist John Muir -- amid a teeming 40-million-person 21st-century megalopolis.

The California disease is characteristic of comfortable postmodern societies that forget the sources of their original wealth. The state may have the most extensive reserves of gas and oil in the nation, the largest number of cars on the road -- and the greatest resistance to drilling for fuel beneath its collective feet. After last summer's forest fires wiped out a billion board feet of timber, we are still arguing over whether loggers will be allowed to salvage such precious lumber, or instead should let it rot to enhance beetle and woodpecker populations.

In 2014, nature yet again reminded California just how fragile -- and often pretentious -- a place it has become.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.