The inevitable is upon us. Channeling Hydrowonk’s favorite Chicagoan theologian, “the curtailments have come home to roost.”
Many are not surprised. The early 20th century was a period of historically high natural flows on the Colorado River when the 1922 Colorado River Compact was negotiated. The 1944 Treaty with the Republic of Mexico was, at least partly, a national security exercise during World War II against Nazi incursion south of our border. Were interested parties inside and outside state and federal governments engaged in long-term comprehensive risk assessment over the past seventy years? Based on Hydrowonk’s four decades plus experience, nope (with a few exceptions). Neglect is always a prelude to catastrophe.
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
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
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