Snow Survey Presses State to Retrench and Reinforce

As we already know, calendar year 2013 closed as the driest year in recorded history for many areas of California, and current conditions suggest no change in sight for 2014.

No Water LogoAnd, California is experiencing the first zero allocation announcement for all customers of the State Water Project (SWP) in the 54-year history of the project.

According to California Department of Water Resources’ (CDWR) third snow survey of the season on February 27, twenty-nine public water agencies buy water from the SWP for delivery to 25 million Californians and 750,000 acres of farmland, revealing a continuation of California’s precipitation deficit during the state’s third consecutive dry water year (October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014). And, the statewide snowpack water equivalent was 6 inches, or only 24 percent of the average for the date.

The snowpack, “California’s largest reservoir”, typically issues about a third of the water used by the state’s cities and farms. And, California’s major reservoirs, themselves, are dangerously low.

A CDWR statement issued yesterday evaluating the snow survey findings, called the results, “an improvement from the previous survey on January 30 that found the snowpack’s water content at 12 percent of average for late January.”

According to CDPR, although it is difficult to quantify an exact amount of precipitation that would alleviate the current drought conditions, it is highly unlikely given historic patterns of the remainder of the rainy season that the drought will end this water year. There just isn’t enough time for precipitation to accumulate at an acceptable rate to alleviate drought conditions or the anticipated impacts to drought-stricken communities.

SWP’s principal reservoir, Lake Oroville in Butte County, is at only 39 percent of its 3.5 million acre-foot capacity; Shasta Lake north of Redding, California’s and the (federal) Central Valley Project’s (CVP) largest reservoir, is at 38 percent of its 4.5 million acre-foot capacity; and San Luis Reservoir, a important SWP and CVP reservoir ,  is at 33 percent of its 2 million acre-foot capacity.

What’s being done about it? When Governor Brown declared a drought State of Emergency in January, he directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for water shortages. CAL FIRE recently announced it hired 125 additional firefighters to help address the increased fire threat due to drought conditions, the California Department of Public Health identified and offered assistance to communities at risk of severe drinking water shortages and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife restricted fishing on some waterways due to low water flows worsened by the drought.

Also in January, the California Natural Resources Agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Food and Agriculture also released the California Water Action Plan, which will guide state efforts to enhance water supply reliability, restore damaged and destroyed ecosystems and improve the resilience of our infrastructure.

Governor Brown has called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water usage by 20 percent and the Save Our Water campaign has announced four new public service announcements that encourage residents to conserve. Last December, the Governor formed a Drought Task Force to review expected water allocations and California’s preparedness for water scarcity. In May 2013, Governor Brown issued an Executive Order to direct state water officials to expedite the review and processing of voluntary transfers of water.