California Drought – Maybe a Real Crisis in the Making

QUESTION: Marty, I remember you had forecast that we would go into another major drought in the West after 2000. I think that was in a special report on agriculture. Your forecast seems to be spot on there as well. Do you have any updates?


A California reader for life.



ANSWER: Yes, that is one of the reports we are hoping to redo. Now that more staff are joining, the work load should improve a lot. People do not appreciate the geological history of the West. It is highly prone to wild swings of massive floods and droughts. Most people are unaware of the history nor have they ever heard of the great “Medieval drought” (900-1400AD) that ultimately contributed to the destruction of the Hohokam civilization that had thrived for a thousand years from 450 to 1450AD. There of course are theories that purport that the major earthquakes are in part created by these dramatic swings between floods and droughts which are inherent in the region long before the invention of automobiles. These swings between floods and droughts place tremendous stress on the faults expanding and contracting them with time.


At this time, California is locked in its third year of historic drought. This may last until 2020 with respect to immediate intensity and there is a serious risk of another Dust Bowl in the making. From the peak in drought back in 1159. we saw a decline of 3 primary cycles of 224 years that took us into 1839. From there, we are on an escalating trend and aside from the Great Flood of 1861-1862, currently 2014 has come close already to the historic high of 1159. This is warning on this cycle we are likely to see new highs and that means a greater percentage of the West engulfed in drought. This will mean both livestock and vegetables will rise over time.

Powell John_WesleyJohn Wesley Powell (1834–1902) was a geologist, explorer of the American West, a professor at Illinois Wesleyan University, a director of major scientific and cultural institutions. and a soldier. He is famous for the 1869 Powell Geographic Expedition, a three-month river trip down the Green and Colorado rivers, including the first known passage through the Grand Canyon.

Powell served as second director of the US Geological Survey (1881–1894) and proposed policies that were an accurate evaluation of conditions for development of the arid West. The arid West has experienced a continuing population expansion despite Powell’s early warnings made in the late 19th century. Powell led the first scientific expedition down the Colorado River in 1869 exploring the Grand Canyon. Powell conducted an extensive survey of the geography, climate, hydrology, vegetation, topography, and geology of the American West and reached a conclusion that the U.S. government should abandon any ambitions of populating this arid region. In a notable report to the General Land Office, Powell argued that only small-scale irrigation in the West would even be possible to support only a small number of people. Powell calculated that, even if all the water in western streams were harnessed, only a tiny fraction of western land could be irrigated.

Nevertheless, there was money to be had and as such a wild theory was adopted to discredit Powell. This astonishing rebuttal to Powell’s conclusions that the West was too arid, the preposterous theory that “rain follows the plow,” meaning that rainfall would increase as farmers worked the soil and planted crops, stirring up the atmosphere to produce rain-bearing clouds. This crazy theory like Global Warming, was just completely nuts. It was proposed by Charles Dana Wilber. Congress could only see money and adopted Wilber’s theory against Powell without any evidence of backing.

goldrush Calif

Gold-Rush-PampletThe population increased thanks also to the Gold Rush that began in 1849. It was during the Great Flood of 1861-62 which was the largest flood in the recorded history of Oregon, Nevada, and California, occurring from December 1861 to January 1862 that demonstrated Powell was correct. This serious event was preceded by weeks of continuous rains (or snows in the very high elevations) that began in Oregon in November 1861 and continued into January 1862. This was followed by a record amount of rain from January 9–12, and contributed to a flood which extended from the Columbia River southward in western Oregon and through California to San Diego, and extended as far inland as Idaho in Washington Territory, Nevada and Utah in Utah Territory, and Arizona in western New Mexico Territory.

Currently, California is locked in a third year of historic drought once again. This is part of the pattern and we may not see a change in this trend for another 4 years. It appears that this cycle will make new record highs. Therefore, this could be a real crisis in the making that is lined up with the turn in the Economic Confidence Model. Strangely, we had the Great Dust Bowl in the 1930s when the model peaked in 1929.75. We should expect food prices to rise and this could become a real crisis. In Contrast, Europe has also had the coldest summer in many decades despite the warnings of global warming.