Category Archives: Supply Reliability

Drought in the Northwest – Will La Niña Provide any Relief this Winter?

Last winter, California was supposed to bear the brunt of a “Godzilla El Niño” that would go a long way towards alleviating the drought here. Instead, a host of atmospheric conditions largely sent storms that most meteorologists predicted would hit California to the Pacific Northwest. As such, Northern California, Oregon and Washington experienced the majority of the storms while Southern California largely remained warm and dry. The winter storms helped to alleviate the drought in Oregon, but not completely erase it. According to the US Drought Monitor, extreme drought covered 67.29% of Oregon a year ago and 67.96% of Washington State. Currently, 32.78% of Oregon and 92.09% of Washington are drought free. Only 2.63% of Oregon’s land area has severe drought; Washington has none. During the winter of 2015-16, storms that many meteorologists initially believed would “bust the drought” in California eventually tracked to the Pacific Northwest. From December 1, 2015 to March 1, 2016, Seattle received more than 25 inches of rain – one of the soggiest winters on record. However, the lingering effects of the drought remain in both states. Low reservoirs, drought-affected forests and tough growing conditions have all presented challenges to the Pacific Northwest. Continue reading

Urban Storm Water Capture – Great Potential Benefits, Great Cost or Both?

In my last Hydrowonk post, I discussed how challenges moving water through the Delta has created even more scarce water supplies in parts of the Central Valley. Despite the fact that Lakes Shasta and Oroville are at 92% and 94% capacity, (Lake Oroville is within 18 feet of the crest – a reality unimaginable just a year ago when the reservoir looked like this) a series of factors is stopping the water stored north from flowing to parched farmers and cities in southern California. Many water pundits and industry leaders have pointed out how the drought has changed people’s mindsets about water use, and it has affected how water district managers view long-term supplies. For example, many managers did not believe that the Central Valley Project would get zero allocation for 2014 and 2015, and that the State Water Project would deliver a 5% allocation in 2014. As the Golden State enters into the fifth year of drought, unreliable water supplies are causing many districts to look for alternative sources. Continue reading

El Niño Is Not Treating All of California Evenly

In August 2015, forecasters predicted that a “Godzilla El Niño” would be heading to the western United States, potentially wiping out (or at least putting a major dent) in the widespread drought. Meteorologists pointed to the similarities between the ocean warming in 1997 and the pattern seen last summer. So far, the forecasters correctly predicted that the El Niño warming patterns would continue to build and rival the intensity of the 1997-1998 El Niño. But unfortunately for the drought in the western United States, the El Niño ocean warming patterns have not translated into significantly above average rainfall totals. After series of promising storms in January, a warm and dry February provided little relief to the drought. At the beginning of February, the US Drought Monitor reported that 39.41% of California faced exceptional drought conditions. At the last update on March 8th, 38.48% of the Golden State had exceptional drought, a reduction of less than 1%. Continue reading

The Return of Drought in Texas – A Potential Warning for California?

Forecasters now believe that there is a 95% probability of El Niño conditions this winter, and the current strength of the conditions is one of the highest on record. California and other parched areas of the West hope that soaking rains will bring much needed relief to the drought conditions that have persisted for years. But will this potential series of monster storms this winter reverse the years of drought conditions California and much of the West has experienced? Unfortunately, the answer is likely no. Golden Gate Weather Services meteorologist Jan Null estimates that the rainfall deficit from the last four years of drought in California is approximately 68 trillion gallons. Even if we could capture most of the water that falls during the heavy storms, forecasters estimate it would take between 160% and 198% of average rainfall totals just to get us out of drought conditions. However, as the case of Texas shows this year, it takes more than a deluge to reverse the effects of drought over the long-term. Texas received a deluge of rain this spring to reverse a severe four year drought, only to re-enter drought conditions this fall. In this post, I will look at Texas’s and South Carolina’s trip in and out of drought conditions, and the potential lessons we can learn to prepare for the potential extreme rains California could see this winter. Continue reading