January 2015

Volume 6, Issue 1

For those who thought that a couple weeks of storms would wash away California’s ongoing drought, the U.S. Drought Monitor Index has a sobering picture. Even with the early winter precipitation, more than 94 percent of California remains in at least a ‘severe drought’.

More bad news for the state’s water crisis came from the initial Sierra Snowpack Survey, conducted on December 30 by the Department of Water Resources; the manual survey took place at a plot along Highway 50 near Echo Summit and found the water content of the snowpack at only 33 percent of normal-to-date. Statewide, electronic sensors throughout the Sierras detected California’s total snowpack at just 36 percent of normal-to-date. The Sierra snowpack serves as the state’s largest storage system, naturally holding water through the winter season and releasing it into state’s rivers, streams and reservoirs as it melts away in the spring.

Despite the early rain, water levels at the state’s largest storage reservoirs also remain historically low. Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, the reservoirs for the Central  Valley Project and State Water Project, are well below normal at 42 and 39 percent of capacity (66 and 62 percent of average to-date), respectively.

As lawmakers return to the Capitol to start a new legislative session, the lack of Sierra snowpack and low water storage levels should serve as a reminder that California is ill prepared for an extended drought.  The 2014 water bond provided funding for a down payment on improvements to the state’s water system, but there is a lot more work ahead in implementing the programs funded by the bond and constructing a water conveyance solution for the state to ensure a secure water supply for the future.