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Opinion: Four Strategies for Managing California’s Crucial Watershed

Conditions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its watershed are changing as droughts become warmer and more intense. But as our new study highlights, California is not doing a good job of tracking these changes. That’s making it even tougher to manage the water that is available for the benefit of the state’s communities, economy and environment.

It’s Not Even Summer, and California’s Two Largest Reservoirs Are at ‘Critically Low’ Levels

At a point in the year when California’s water storage should be at its highest, the state’s two largest reservoirs have already dropped to critically low levels — a sobering outlook for the hotter and drier months ahead.

Shasta Lake, which rises more than 1,000 feet above sea level when filled to the brim, is at less than half of where it usually should be in early May — the driest it has been at this time of year since record-keeping first began in 1976. Lake Oroville, the largest reservoir in the State Water Project, a roughly 700-mile lifeline that pumps and ferries water all the way to Southern California, is currently at 55% of total capacity.

How Can Information About Atmospheric Rivers Optimize Reservoir Operations?

In January, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began testing a process to determine which reservoirs within its South Pacific Division are possible candidates for the use of forecast-informed reservoir operations. Relying on advancements in weather and hydrologic forecasting to improve reservoir management, FIRO offers a method for optimizing operations. Ultimately, the Corps intends to assess all its reservoirs nationwide to see whether they might make good candidates for FIRO.

Typically, reservoirs designed for purposes of flood control and water supply are operated in accordance with guide curves that are designed to ensure adequate storage capacity in advance of flood events and maximize storage for later uses.

Opinion: Erratic Weather Requires New Water Policy Approach

What happened — or didn’t — weatherwise during the last two months starkly reminds us of the erratic nature of California’s vital water supply.

After months of severe drought, the state saw record-shattering storms in December, creating a hefty mountain snowpack while replenishing seriously depleted reservoirs. But January, historically a month of heavy precipitation, was bone-dry.

With climate change, California’s wet periods have become briefer, albeit sometimes more intense, and the dry periods have become longer, making the state’s elaborate water storage and conveyance systems less able to cope with precipitation patterns.

California Is Heading Underground to Explore Its Biggest Water Storage Potential

Hopes of a big drought busting year in California are starting to look grim after what felt like a great start to the rainy season.

January delivered little, if any, rain and snow and now February is off to an equally dry start. The winter whiplash continues to challenge water managers and with climate trends showing more of this boom or bust pattern, the state is rethinking its water supply system.

Now the state wants to head underground to explore what could be its biggest water storage potential.

Improved North Bay Reservoir Levels a Hopeful Sign for 2022

Winter rains have bolstered water storage in the region’s two key public reservoirs, reversing months of decline and starting off 2022 with hopes for a less-uncertain year ahead.

A lot depends on how the remainder of the rainy season shakes out. After rain this week, the forecast calls for dry weather later this month,  followed by months in which the North  Coast stands an equal chance of above-normal and below-normal precipitation under La Niña atmospheric conditions.

Rainy Years Can’t Make Up for California’s Groundwater Use

Over a third of American vegetables are grown in California, largely in the state’s Central Valley. The region also produces two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts. These crops—and the many Americans who produce and consume them—are heavily reliant on California’s water supply. But, given recurrent and severe droughts, the state’s groundwater supply has been strained.

California’s Major Reservoirs Are Still Far Drier Than Average

The just-passed atmospheric river gave California a lot of precious, badly needed water. But how well did our all-important reservoir systems do? For California, water storage, above and underground are the key to California’s economic fate.

As of midnight Monday, California’s major reservoirs keep getting more water from the weekend’s storm as the runoff finds its way into them.

‘Snow Drought’ is Threatening the Western US, and That Could Become a Massive Problem

The western United States has built their water infrastructure on a melting foundation, and unless we do something about global warming, scientists worry the consequences will be catastrophic.

Managing Water Stored for the Environment During Drought

Storing water in reservoirs is important for maintaining freshwater ecosystem health and protecting native species. Stored water also is essential for adapting to the changing climate, especially warming and drought intensification. Yet, reservoir operators often treat environmental objectives as a constraint, rather than as a priority akin to water deliveries for cities and farms. Reservoir management becomes especially challenging during severe droughts when surface water supplies are scarce, and urban and agricultural demands conflict with water supplies needed to maintain healthy waterways and wetlands. In times of drought, most freshwater ecosystems suffer.