How about this weather? Although the Lower Columbia gets an occasional dry October, rainfall normally averages more than seven inches for the month. Coming at the end of the Northwest's surprisingly dry summer, October marks the official start of the "water year" for a reason: it's wet.

But October managed only a handful of wet days, and precipitation was only about a third what it usually is. From Alaska to Northern California, salmon and steelhead are stymied in their migrations, forest managers fear late-season fires and elk hunters pray for rain.

In all likelihood, our dry spell will be only a nostalgic daydream in a few brief days as the wrath of November lowers the boom on all we who secretly half hope global warming will turn our moldy coastline into the next San Diego. Tremble all ye who moved here in the last half year: it is not always like this.

These many nearly rainless autumn days, coming after an unusually dry summer, reveal that even this soggy place is at risk of shortfalls in fresh water.

Many here rely on wells, and groundwater levels have been far from certain this year. On the other side of the country, in Maine, drought-induced well problems this summer made many homes virtually uninhabitable. The same could happen here.

On the North Coast, we got off the hook easily on forest fires this summer, but grass and brush still are dry enough to be of concern. It remains true that there isn't much we can do about the weather, except perhaps lobby politicians for better attention to the issue of greenhouse gas emissions.

But we can and must begin devising meaningful water management and conservation plans for our communities. Even if climatic conditions don't change for the long run and dictate sensible management, our inevitably growing population will.

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