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State Water Project to Boost Deliveries from 5% to 30% of Normal After Rains

California’s giant State Water Project, the network of dams and aqueducts that provides water for 27 million people, will significantly increase deliveries in 2023 after a month of “atmospheric river” storms.

The Department of Water Resources announced Thursday that deliveries will increase from 5% of requested supplies to 30% for the water year than began Dec. 1.

DWR Expects to Begin Spillway Work Between May and October

The California Department of Water Resources is set to begin phase one of its plan to replace the hoists on the Oroville Dam spillway sometime between May and October.

Project Manager Zerguy Maazouddi, who works under DWR’s Division of Operations and Maintenance, said the first phase of prerequisites such as site surveys and approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Despite Recent Parade of Storms, California Unveils Drought Resiliency Task Force

Though the recent barrage of winter storms has certainly improved California’s drought conditions, state water leaders are making moves to prepare for the inevitable dry season soon to come.

On Friday, the California Department of Water Resources kickstarted a partnership between state agencies, local governments, scientists and community members in a new task force, called the Drought Resilience Interagency and Partners Collaborative.

How Arizona, California and Other States Are Trying to Generate a Whole New Water Supply

Underground storage may be a key for Western states navigating water shortages and extreme weather.

Aquifers under the ground have served as a reliable source of water for years. During rainy years, the aquifers would fill up naturally, helping areas get by in the dry years.

California Went From Drought to ‘Epic’ Snow. What It Could Mean for Spring Flooding

Nearly every square mile of California was in a severe drought four months ago. The first six months of 2022 were the driest on record and, in many corners of the state, the rest of the year wasn’t much better.

Now we’re worrying about whether we have too much water in some places.

snow survey-Sierra Nevada snowpack-drought-Phillips Station

Snow Survey: Good Start but Drought Relief Depends on Coming Months

The California Department of Water Resources first manual snow survey of the season Tuesday at Phillips Station recorded 55.5 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent of 17.5 inches, which is 177% of average for the location. The snow water equivalent measures the amount of water contained in the snowpack and is a key component of DWR’s water supply forecast. Statewide the snowpack is 174% of average for this date.

Survey: December storms delivered big snow totals

California is expected to see continued rain and snow over the next seven days, with the threat of flooding in parts of California. Conditions so far this season have proven to be strikingly similar to last year when California saw some early rainstorms and strong December snow totals only to have the driest January through March on record.

“The significant Sierra snowpack is good news but unfortunately these same storms are bringing flooding to parts of California,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “This is a prime example of the threat of extreme flooding during a prolonged drought as California experiences more swings between wet and dry periods brought on by our changing climate.”

One year ago, the Phillips survey showed the seventh highest January measurements on record for that location. However, those results were followed by three months of extremely dry conditions and by April 1 of last year, the Phillips survey measurements were the third lowest on record.

More telling than a survey at a single location are DWR’s electronic readings from 130 stations placed throughout the state. Measurements indicate that statewide, the snowpack’s snow water equivalent is 17.1 inches, or 174%  of average for January 3.

Opportunities to save more water

“After three consecutive years of drought, the recent series of storms is a good start to the season,” said Jeff Stephenson, water resources manager with the San Diego County Water Authority. “However, we had a similarly strong early winter last year, which did not continue. While the Water Authority and its 24 member agencies have worked and continue to develop diverse water supply sources, there are still opportunities, including rebates, to save more water.”

In San Diego County, watersmartsd.org, provides sources of residential and business rebates, including indoor and outdoor incentives, and free landscape makeover classes. 

Stephenson added that the region has reduced its reliance on imported water supplies, including from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta, which means more of that source is available for other parts of California.

Strong start but “a long way to go”

The January 2023 manual snow survey results are similar to results in 2013 and 2022 when the January 1 snowpack was at or above average conditions, only for dry weather to set in and lead to drought conditions by the end of the water year (September 30).

In 2013, the first snow survey of the season also provided promising results after a wet December similar to today’s results. However, the following January and February were exceptionally dry, and the water year ended as the driest on record, contributing to a record-breaking drought. In 2022, record-breaking December snowfall was again followed by the driest January through March period on record.

“Big snow totals are always welcome, but we still have a long way to go before the critical April 1 total,” said DWR’s Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit Manager Sean de Guzman. “It’s always great to be above average this early in the season, but we must be resilient and remember what happened last year. If January through March of 2023 turn out to be similar to last year, we would still end the water year in severe drought with only half of an average year’s snowpack.”

Sierra snowpack supplies 30% of California’s water

On average, the Sierra snowpack supplies about 30% of California’s water needs and is an important factor in determining how DWR manages the state’s water resources. Its natural ability to store water is why the Sierra snowpack is often referred to as California’s “frozen reservoir.” A below-average snowpack impacts water users across the state, putting further stress on the environment and critical groundwater supplies.

Due to these increasing swings from dramatically wet to dry conditions, Governor Newsom’s recently released “California’s Water Supply Strategy, Adapting to a Hotter, Drier Future” calls for investing in new projects and technologies that will modernize how the state manages water.

Current climate research indicates the state will see bigger swings from extreme heat and dry conditions to larger and more powerful storms that deliver temporary large boosts to the state snowpack as well as flood risk.

DWR encourages Californians to visit SaveOurWater.com for water saving tips and information, and to continue to conserve California’s most precious resource, rain or shine. DWR conducts five snow surveys at Phillips Station each winter near the first of each month, January through April and, if necessary, May. The next survey is tentatively scheduled for February 1.

Water Wells Go Dry as California Feels Warming Impacts

A record number of water wells in California have gone dry as climate change amplifies heat and drought in the parched state. Residents reported having 1,394 dry wells statewide from January through last month, an increase of nearly 40 percent from the same time last year. It’s the highest number since the start of record keeping in 2013.

Drought-Hit California Cities to Get Little Water From State

California water agencies that serve 27 million people will get just 5% of what they requested from the state to start 2023, water officials announced Thursday.

The news of limited water comes as California concludes its driest three-year stretch on record and as water managers brace for a fourth year with below-average precipitation. But if the winter is wetter than expected, the state could boost how much supply it plans to give out — as it did last year when allocations started at 0% and ended the winter at 5%.

California Set for More Brown Lawns and Water Restrictions as State Issues 5% Allocation

Californians should brace for another year of brown lawns, tight water restrictions and increased calls for conservation as state water managers Thursday warned that severely reduced allocations are once again likely in 2023.

Nearly 20% of California Water Agencies Could See Shortages if Drought Persists, State Report Shows

Most of California’s urban water agencies believe they have enough supplies to last through another seven months of drought, but nearly 20% of them — including many in Southern California — say they could be facing significant shortages, according to a new state report. The California Department of Water Resource’s first annual water supply and demand assessment surveyed the state’s urban water agencies to see how they are managing tight supplies through conservation efforts and improved drought planning.