So much for a “drought-busting” El Niño winter in California. While the warming of the equatorial Pacific waters (known as the Oceanic Niño Index or ONI) was one of the strongest on record, California unfortunately did not enjoy the plentiful rains that many expected. Atmospheric conditions steered storms to the Pacific Northwest and away from Southern California, much to the surprise of many meteorologists. As a result, Seattle officially experienced its wettest winter in recorded history. In California, tests conducted last week showed that the state’s overall snowpack was less than average. While the 2016 spring survey was markedly better than one year ago, (Governor Jerry Brown stood on a bare meadow exactly one year ago – it was the first and only time since 1950 that there was no snow at the Phillips Station site on this date) snow at the site totaled 58.4 inches, just 97% of average. Statewide snow totals average just 87% of average for this date. The snow totals in the state decrease the further south you go. While the Northern Sierra has a 97% of average snowpack, the Central Sierra has 88% and the Southern Sierra only 72%. Continue reading
This year’s Groundhog Day was symbolic in more ways than one. When Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his burrow on February 2nd, he did not see his shadow and predicted an early spring. In the Southwest US, his prediction has so far come true. Despite early hopes in January that the strong Pacific El Niño would help bring an end to the drought, February has so far been a bust. The National Weather Service reports that globally, January 2016 was the hottest on record and that temperatures across the Southwestern US reached records. In some parts of California and the desert Southwest, temperatures have been between 15 to 25 degrees hotter than average. As the temperatures have risen, precipitation amounts have fallen. While forecasters believe that the storms may return with some intensity in March, a ridge of high pressure has come into place that blocked storms from tracking through California and the Southwest US. These patterns are reminiscent of the El Niño predictions in 2014 and 2012 that never showed up. But unfortunately, much like Bill Murray’s character woke up to the same day over and over again, the California remains in the midst of exceptional drought conditions month after month. Continue reading
The drought gripping the Western United States has changed many things. Up until this year, we never had a zero percent allocation for the State Water Project. The media attention on the subject of water in California, including this week’s 60 Minutes segment on groundwater in the Central Valley, brings the issues we are facing in this state to the forefront of the general public. Despite these changes, a few things remain certain. Despite the recent rains, in the short-term, there is not enough water to satisfy all the demands of California’s water users. As such, citizens, business leaders and elected officials have to make the hard choices over which users should get limited water supplies.
As I mentioned in my Post last week, one of the most contentious debates over water allocation centers around the amount of water that we use for endangered species mitigation. Last week, I focused on the measures that the California Department of Fish and Game is taking to save the salmon populations in the state. This week, I will take a look at the smaller but no less contentious Delta smelt. This finger-sized fish has been the source of a series of contentious court battles and has affected the amount of water we can move through the Delta. In this piece, I will discuss the reasons behind the Delta smelt’s decline, the species’ effect on pumping in the Delta, and some recent court cases related to the fish. Continue reading
In the last week, President Barrack Obama and Jerry Brown have rolled out drought relief packages. Pundits have expressed their opinions both for and against these packages, and they have also used these proposals as a venue to opine on everything from the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to Climate Change. Both packages try to address both short-term and long-term issues related to the drought, but will they be successful towards these goals? In this piece I will address the details of both of these measures and how effective I believe they will be towards curbing the drought that California faces. Let’s start first with the President’s proposal. Continue reading