Throwback Thursday: California drought lingers (Feb. 19, 1976)

April 8, 2015, 10:16 p.m.

Earlier this week, California Governor Jerry Brown issued a histortic mandate to reduce water usage by 25 percent. While the current drought is said to be the worst in California history, in 1976 Stanford suffered a similarly devastating drought that left Lake Lagunita without water. This article was originally published in The Daily on Feb. 19, 1976.

California drought lingers; Lake Lag remains unfilled

By Bill Sing

Lake Lagunita will not be filled up this year, should the current drought continue much longer, according to Plant Utilities Manager Robert McKnight. “Unless Stanford gets a few good days of rain soon,” said McKnight, “the lake’s chances of getting any water at all will be very, very minimal.”

The current three-month-old drought has plagued areas throughout California, with losses to farmers and cattlemen statewide estimated at over $300 million. Gov. Edmund Brown has declared 25 California counties as disaster areas and requested emergency federal aid for them.

“The rain locally over the past few days has helped, but it just hasn’t been enough,” said McKnight.

Water in both Searsville and Felt Lakes is down to its minimal reserve level, said McKnight. Lake Lagunita is fed by two creeks, Los Trancos and San Francisquito. However, either Searsville or Felt must be full or nearly full before any excess water can drain into the creeks.

“One good rain should fill Searsville,” said McKnight. “But for now we have no intentions of unloading any of Searsville or Felt Lake water into Lagunita until their levels are sufficiently high.”

The last time a drought severely affected the campus was in 1961, when a water rationing program had to be implemented. But even then, Lake Lagunita had some water, according to Plant Services Water and Sewer Superintendent Joe Carrington.

Carnngton said that Felt Lake is currently 11 feet short of last year’s mark, while Searsville Lake is 9.5 feet short. Last year at this time all three lakes were full.

Water from Searsville and Felt Lakes is used primarily by the Stanford Golf Course, the single greatest user on campus, and by local farmers and cattlemen leasing University land.

Lake water is also used to supply parts of the Quad and west side of campus, while serving as a reserve backup for the Stanford Fire Department. Most of the University, including residence halls and academic buildings, is on the San Francisco Municipal system, which has yet to be greatly affected by the drought, according to McKnight.

“Searsville Lake is vital for two main reasons,” said McKnight “First, of course, is its valuable water supply: secondly, it is also valuable as a recreational area, which brings in considerable revenue to the University in the summer.

“The situation is not at a critical stage yet, but if there is no rain in the next couple of weeks, we will start pumping water from the University wells, which will cost us about $500 a week. The users affected the most will be the Golf Course and the farmers and cattlemen.”

“It could get quite serious if it doesn’t rain significantly the remainder of February,’’ said Golf Course Superintendent Bryce Weeks.

Fire Department Chief Frank Jurian also expressed concern. “One fourth of our supply comes from Searsville and Felt,” he said, “and not too many options will be left to us if we get low on our bare reserves.”

Hard hit financially by the drought have been local cattlemen leasing University land. Stanford leases 3500 acres of agricultural use.

According to George Burtness. assistant manager of university land resources, the lack of fresh grass has forced them to ship in more hay than usual, which has been both costlier for the cattlemen and not as healthy for their livestock.

“We’re just as bad off as the rest of the cattlemen and farmers in the state,” said Manuel Piers, a local dairyman. “But we will stick it out.”

Click here for the original version in our digital archives.

Jeremy Quach is a sophomore Desk Editor for the Student Groups beat and is from Kansas City, Kansas. He can often be found smiling, stuffing his face full of french fries, and mumbling Beatles lyrics to himself. He can be contacted at jquach ‘at’

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