Watching California's Water
With California’s varying and unpredictable weather patterns, an eye must always be kept on the state’s water conditions. As the rainy season approaches, many of the state’s reservoirs sit well below historic averages and experts continue to disagree on the amount of much needed precipitation the state can expect this winter.
A dryer than normal 2011-2012 winter left Californians relying on an aging water storage system to provide residents, businesses and farmers with water deliveries throughout 2012. Due to court-ordered Delta water pumping restrictions to protect fish, State Water Project contractors received only to 60 percent of their annual allocation, while federal south of Delta agricultural Central Valley Project contractors received only 40 percent of their contracted water allocation. These restrictions forced water managers to curtail water deliveries by approximately 620,000 acre feet in 2012, allowing that water to flow out to the Pacific Ocean.
Water deliveries have been curtailed by the courts even in the 2011 water year, which followed a historically wet winter. That year state and federal agricultural water contractors still only received 80 percent of their annual contracted water allocations.
Conditions were even worse in 2010, following multiple years of drought, when court ordered restrictions allowed approximately 1,043,000 acre feet of water flow out to the ocean, rather than be delivered to ag and urban users.
As the 2012-2013 winter approaches, the state’s water supply for the coming year will soon begin to take shape. More information on the approaching water year.
SIERRA SNOWPACK SURVEY
The second California Cooperative Snow Survey of 2013 was conducted January 29. Dry January conditions dropped the once promising snowpack down to only 93 percent of historical average to date.
MAJOR RESERVOIR LEVELS
A reliance on the state's inadequate water storage to make up for last year's lack of precipitation has many reservoirs sitting well below historic averages. Dept. of Water Resources - Current Reservoir Conditions
San Francisco Chronicle: Calif. snowpack outlook grim for water (Nov. 11, 2012)
Sacramento Bee: Drought Concerns Rise as Weather, Reservoirs Eyed (Oct. 1, 2012)
Fresno Bee: Sierra Snow Survey Finds Hardly Any (Feb. 23, 2012)
A combination of a lack of additional storage capacity in California and pumping restrictions designed to protect fish forced water managers to allow 74 percent of the available water in the Delta to flow out to the ocean between December 2011 and May 2012.
The excess water available during 2011 provided an incredible opportunity for recharging groundwater storage throughout the state. Kern County alone recharged over a half million acre-feet of water into its aquifers to help mitigate future droughts. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California was been able to replenish its reserves by storing 749,000 acre-feet of water in 2011, enough to supply almost 1.5 million households (6 million residents) for an entire year.