January 2017

As California weathers yet another “atmospheric river”, it’s a good time to reassess where we are and where we are headed from a water standpoint in California.

The extended statewide drought period we have experienced the past 5+ years appears to be ending. Rainfall and snowpack levels are drought-monitor-key-1-19-17well above average for this time of year, and once depleted reservoirs are quickly filling. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, only 2 percent of the state is currently facing “exceptional drought” conditions, compared to nearly 43 percent one year ago. With at least two months to go in the winter season, snowpack water content (as of January 15) is already at 163 percent of statewide average and 74 percent of average for the entire season. Most major Northern California reservoirs are filling quickly and are anywhere from 82-126 percent of historical average for this time of year. Lake Oroville went from 57 percent of capacity (January 3) to 80 percent of capacity (January 15) in less than two short weeks. Even San Luis Reservoir, south of the Delta, is filling (62 percent of capacity) after a record low-point just last year.

While the deluge has provided a much welcomed and needed end
to a historically dry period, it has also once again highlighted the significant need for additional infrastructure and investment to capture these peak flows, specifically improved Delta conveyance and increased storage.

A recent report by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) entitled “Water Available for Replenishment” underscores this very point. The DWR analysis shows that providing more flexibility to capture additional storm runoff through construction of additional storage north and south of the Delta and making improvements in Delta conveyance infrastructure as proposed by the California WaterFix, would greatly enhance both the state’s water supply portfolio and environmental protection. The report also highlights the critical investment needed to capture more peak storm flows to recharge overdrafted groundwater basins throughout the state.

California’s increasingly fickle precipitation patterns showcase the need for additional water supply investments. Policymakers need to take timely action to adapt our infrastructure to meet the state’s rapidly changing climate realities.