The exceptional rain in California and over much of the western United States this winter was both an asset and a liability to the state. Clearly the precipitation as both rain and snow helped to “bust the drought” in California, and in a very short period of time. As the most recent US Drought Monitor statistics show, at the start of the water year (September 27, 2016), 100% of the state was in some form of drought. Further, 42.8% of the state had either extreme or exceptional drought. Fast forward to today and the severity of the drought has completely turned around. Currently (see map below) 76.54% of the state has no drought conditions, and only 1.06% of the state’s land mass has severe drought. No areas of extreme or exceptional drought remain. Further, reservoirs across the western US have been the recipients of above-average flows. According to the US Bureau of Reclamation, the elevation of Lake Mead has increased from 1,075.23 feet in September 2016 to 1,087.08 feet as of April 10th. Finally, according to the California Data Exchange Center, 9 major California reservoirs in either the State Water Project or Central Valley Project systems currently have above 100% of average storage levels. Continue reading
Hydrowonk gratefully received an invitation to attend the Salton Sea Tour sponsored by the Water Education Foundation on March 16th, the day the Natural Resources Agency released a 10-Year Plan for habitat and dust suppression projects in the Salton Sea. The tour was hosted by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, State Senator Ben Hueso and Resources Secretary John Laird. After assembling at the Imperial County Airport, the entourage went to two venues.
Why Field Visits are Always a Good Idea
The first stop was the Red Hill Marina. Presentations included the observation that, in 2004, the Salton Sea shoreline was where tents were installed for a brown bag lunch. I looked west to find the Salton Sea shoreline miles away. I was stunned at the decline in the Salton Sea elevation with the attendant increase in the amount of exposed playa laced with residues of toxic/unhealthful chemicals and organics.
In my last post, I wrote about how long-suffering California is having a good start to the water year as weather patterns have changed and so far, ample rainfall has fallen across the Golden State. A series of powerful storms this weekend and continuing this week has already caused flooding and widespread damage across parts of California. In Sacramento, Monday marked the first time in ten years that officials opened the Sacramento Weir to divert floodwaters to the Yolo Bypass and prevent further damage downstream. Strong winds also toppled the iconic Pioneer Cabin Tree, a hollowed-out sequoia large enough for cars to drive through. Further “atmospheric river” storms are expected to hit across the state as the week continues.
What a difference a year makes. In a series of posts that I authored in late 2015 and early 2016, I wrote about how the potential “Godzilla” El Niño had the possibility to wipe out at least some of the drought conditions, provided that the drought-relieving storms tracked in a direction that would hit California. Unfortunately for California, the “drought-busting” rains did not come to alleviate the drought. Instead, atmospheric conditions pushed storms largely to the north, providing a deluge to Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. In fact, Seattle recorded the wettest period from October 1 to March 1 on record, receiving 38.22 inches of rain during that time. Parts of northern California received decent amounts of rainfall, but the majority of the Central Valley and southern California remained dry. However, since then, weather patterns have changed in a way that may favor a wetter winter for California. Continue reading