The California Department of Water Resources has marked 2021 as the third-driest water year, a period marked from October to March, on record for the Golden State, potentially setting up another deadly wildfire season after last year’s record setting blazes.
As the rain season comes to a close across Northern California, water districts are keeping a close eye on rain totals that are below average, and water managers are explaining what another “dry water year” means for our region. According to California’s Department of Water Resources, or DWR, the state is well into its second consecutive dry year. That causes concern among water managers. However, it comes as no surprise.
The rainy season is nearly over, there’s been no “March miracle” and the possibility of parched lawns and fallowed farm fields is growing.
State and federal officials issued remarkably bleak warnings Tuesday about California’s summer water supplies, telling farmers and others to gear up for potential shortages.
The Department of Water Resources, in a rare turnabout, actually lowered its forecast of the deliveries it expects to make to the cities and farms that belong to the State Water Project. In its new forecast, the agency said its customers can expect just 5% of contracted supplies. In December the expected allocation was set at 10%.
Often the value of a plan or project can best be judged by its opposition. In the case of the proposed Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach, the forces lined up against it are clear indicators that it’s a worthwhile enterprise.
The winter storms that dumped heavy snow and rain across California early in 2021 are likely not enough to negate what will be a critically dry year, state water officials believe.
California’s Department of Water Resources on Tuesday recorded a snow depth of 56 inches and water content of 21 inches at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada. The water content of the overall snowpack was 61% of the average for March 2 and 54% of the average for April 1, when it is historically at its maximum.
The Department of Water Resources today conducted the third manual snow survey of the season at Phillips Station. The manual survey recorded 56 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent (SWE) of 21 inches, which is 86% of average for this location. The SWE measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR’s water supply forecast.
“As California closes out the fifth consecutive dry month of our water year, absent a series of strong storms in March or April we are going to end with a critically dry year on the heels of last year’s dry conditions,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “With back-to-back dry years, water efficiency and drought preparedness are more important than ever for communities, agriculture and the environment.”
Bracing for potentially a second consecutive year of dry conditions, California water officials, farmers and researchers participating in an irrigation conference discussed recharging aquifers with stormwater and increased water efficiency among ways to diversify the state’s water supply. The 59th annual California Irrigation Institute conference was held virtually last week, in time for the year’s second manual snow survey by the California Department of Water Resources.
Fresh off a week filled with rain and snow due to an atmospheric river, water conservation may not be top of mind for everyday Californians.
NBC Bay Area Meteorologist Rob Mayeda just broke down some figures from this latest storm. In a Friday tweet he says, “Sierra Snowpack Surge: Up to 66% of average from just 40% one week ago. Biggest rains for the Central and Southern Sierra.”
While the recent precipitation may make the 2011-2017 California drought seem like a distant memory, a couple of laws passed by the legislature at that time are set to rain down policy on water agencies throughout the state.
Starting in November of 2023, California will enact a statewide indoor water use standard of 55 gallons per person per day. Local water agencies could be fined $10,000 a day by the state if they fail to meet the standard.
A month into California’s peak storm season, the lack of wet weather is beginning to weigh on the state’s water supply.
The snowpack in the Sierra and southern Cascades, which provides as much as a third of the water used by California cities and farms, is about 55% of average for this time of year. It hasn’t been this low at this time since 2017, when the state was emerging from a five-year drought.
The proposed federal spending bill for 2021 includes funding for the Oroville Dam, Sites Reservoir Project and new snow measurement technology. If passed by Congress, part of the massive omnibus spending bill would allocate $1 billion towards restoration projects and drought relief efforts.