‘Drought’ not so easily defined

The fact-checkers had a field day with Donald Trump’s pronouncement last week that, in effect, there is no drought in California.

“Lies Trump reality,” blared the headline in Slate.

I realize that because he’s running for president, and because of his track record, everything Trump says will be — and should be — closely scrutinized.

But everyone who has expressed outrage over Trump’s comment should understand that it’s absolutely nothing new. The “there is no drought” sentiment has been expressed many times over the years, and it is not exclusive to south San Joaquin Valley water exporters.

There are at least three ways to define drought. There’s the hydrologic definition, in which case, according to scientists with the U.S. Drought Monitor, we are clearly still in a drought, albeit less severe than last year.

There’s the dictionary definition: “A prolonged period of dry weather; lack of rain,” according to my Webster’s. Does that definition still apply? Maybe, if you live in Bakersfield. Maybe not, if you live in Redding.

Then there’s the political definition, which of course, is the trickiest of all. Politicians in areas where water supplies have been slashed to protect endangered fish in the Delta are fond of referring to a “man-made drought,” although the fish account for only a portion of their shortage.

But I can also recall when, during the drought of the late 2000s, environmentalists complained that then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was overstating the problem, perhaps to push his peripheral canal plan. Reservoirs weren’t in such terrible shape, they said. “What (expletive) drought?” one enviro told me at the time.

The bottom line: No matter what you think of Trump, the definition of “drought” is — and always has been — in the eye of the beholder.

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