Category Archives: Supply Reliability

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

California’s Urban Water Management Plans: Balancing Future Growth and Water Supplies

Earlier this year, The New York Times wrote an article entitled “California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth”, which garnered significant media attention. The article prominently featured a picture of a large house with a green lawn in the middle of the desert, with a large suburban subdivision in the background. In fact, the picture was taken in Rancho Mirage, a city in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs. Further research determined that the subdivision is a gated community named “Versailles”, and the houses are built near the famed Sunnylands compound, which has hosted among others, eight US Presidents, Queen Elizabeth and one of Frank Sinatra’s weddings. Sunnylands is a 200-acre estate with a 9-hole golf course, 11 man-made lakes and a pool. Continue reading

Water Use Restrictions – The new norm in the Western United States?

Earlier this year, The New York Times published an article arguing that, “In California, a wet era may be ending.” The article pointed out that California has a long history of drought conditions, and that the wetter-than average conditions that the Golden State generally witnessed over the last 100 years may not be “normal” at all. In fact, looking at tree ring data, scientists have determined that over the last two millennia, California has experienced many periods of drought that lasted a decade or more. In two instances, “mega drought” conditions lasted more than 100 years straight. When Governor Jerry Brown announced mandatory water restrictions in April, he echoed similar sentiments saying that drought conditions across the state are “the new normal.” Continue reading

Australia’s Water Rights System – A Look of Things to come in the State of California post-Drought?

As the drought in California drags on, things that have not happened for decades or ever in some instances are starting to happen. For the first time since the Department of Water Resources (DWR) started conducting the spring snow surveys, the survey found no snow in April. Despite Governor Brown’s presence and a media frenzy surrounding the April survey, DWR cancelled the May survey because “Lack of snow at Phillips Station [the survey site in the Sierra Nevada Mountains] renders survey moot.” In early May, the State Water Resources Control Board warned that senior water rights are “likely to be curtailed later this year due to extreme dry conditions.” On May 20th, State Water Resources Control Board Engineer Kathy Mrowka confirmed at a hearing that the Board will send curtailment notices to senior water rights holders in the San Joaquin River Watershed by the end of the week. The State has not curtailed senior water rights since the 1970s. Continue reading