Everyone knows April showers bring May flowers. The more important question is will they bring much needed increased water supply allocations for the state’s residents, farmers, and businesses. California is coming off its wettest year on record. So far, 2018 hasn’t lived up to last year, but heavy snow and rainfall in March and expected storms in early April have improved California’s water supply situation. Snowpack levels are now above 50 percent of April 1st averages and continuing to improve. Precipitation in the Northern Sierras is at more than 80 percent of average for the year.
Water supply levels in nearly every major storage reservoir in the state are also at or above historical average. Equally important, storage levels are continuing to improve as late storms provide additional inflow. The San Luis Reservoir which provides critical storage for most Bay Area and Southern California residents and San Joaquin Valley farms is at 97 percent of historical average and 88 percent of capacity. The only reason San Luis hasn’t reached full capacity is ongoing pumping restrictions that continue to prevent the capture of peak river flows.
So why are water supply allocations for the State and Federal water contractors at just 20 percent? While the allocations are expected to increase in coming weeks, the overly conservative approach by regulators should be concerning to everyone. Clearly, water supply decisions are being impacted by an increasingly complicated myriad of flood safety, water quality, and environmental restrictions. These complications further restrict the lack of flexibility inherent in California’s aging water supply and delivery infrastructure, increase uncertainty, and decrease the state’s ability to provide a reliable water supply.
All the more reason why it is crucial to improve conveyance and increase storage capacity to capture and store massive amounts of rain coming more frequently from a few annual “atmospheric river” rainstorms, believed to be the “new normal” thanks to climate change. Prolonged inaction by policy makers will only lead to hampered recovery of endangered fish species, overdrafted groundwater aquifers, and economic suffering caused by a lack of reliable water supplies.