The Drought is Not Over. With March storms boosting reservoir levels, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) increased its water delivery estimate (allocation) for most recipients to 45 percent of requests for 2016. The 29 public agencies (State Water Project Contractors) that receive State Water Project (SWP) water requested 4,172,786 acre-feet of water. With the allocation increase, they will receive 1,898,964 acre-feet.
DWR’s initial State Water Project (SWP) allocation of 10 percent of requests in December was increased to 15 percent on January 26 and to 30 percent on February 24 after January storms increased the Sierra snowpack and brought significant rainfall to the drought-parched state.
Although February was mostly dry, rain and snow returned in March to boost the state’s two largest reservoirs – Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville – to slightly above their historic levels for the date. Some key reservoirs, however, remain far below expected levels for this time of year.
The drought has not ended
California has been experiencing prolonged dry conditions. Seven of the nine years since 2007 (when the 2007-09 drought began) have been dry. California also experienced record warmth during this time, heightening impacts to mountain snowpack and cold-water fisheries. 2014 and 2015 were, respectively, the warmest and second-warmest years in 121 years of statewide average temperature records.
Although this is the wettest year since the drought began in 2012, one somewhat improved season does not compensate for four prior years of drought. Ending a drought means having enough precipitation and runoff throughout the state to mitigate the impacts we’ve experienced. Water year 2016 doesn’t get us there.
Parts of Northern California remain at below-average precipitation and all of Southern California is well below average. Although storage is recovering in some of the large Sacramento Valley reservoirs, this is not the case in the San Joaquin Valley. Groundwater levels throughout the state dropped to historic lows during the past four years and as much as 100 feet below previous historical lows in parts of the San Joaquin Valley. One winter season will not recover this storage. As of today, statewide snowpack stands at 89% of the April 1 average, the time of maximum historical snow accumulation. Southern Sierra snowpack is at only 77% of the April 1 average.
Accurately predicting whether water year 2017 will be wet, dry, or average is beyond climate forecasters’ present scientific skill. We must be prepared for the possibility of a dry (and perhaps warm) 2017 and the incremental impacts of another dry year on the state’s already stressed water resources and water users.
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