Knowledge of the historical variability of regional climate is an essential element of successful water resource planning. Lacking such perspective, planners and managers can be deceived as to the severity of a recent climate extreme, such as drought, and place a disproportionate blame on the climate, not the integrity of the supply system should water restrictions become necessary to avoid shortages. Presented here is a vivid example of how development, a lack of adequate planning, and climate variability have converged to produce three water emergencies in Rockland County, New York, since 1995. An examination of climate data over the past century indicates that the severity of the recent droughts was well within the range of past variability. Rather than climate alone, the recent water emergencies have highlighted a significant mismatch between supply and demand that has been developing in Rockland County over the past three decades. Substantial development, largely in the form of single-family homes, has not been matched with a corresponding enhancement of the county's water system. Realistic plans for meeting current water demand will require cooperation among all stakeholders, beginning with an acknowledgement that climate variations are inevitable, not the sole source of blame when water shortages arise.
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