In the 24 months since California Governor Jerry Brown set a State of Emergency status regarding the state’s drought1, rainfall totals have fluctuated and trended downward. Even with the anticipated influx of rainwater and snow from the El Niño storm system and increased totals, the effects of the long term shortage are still prevalent and waterways seem to be guzzling the new water in an attempt to make up for lost time.
Current Snow Pack Water Totals
A February 2016 report, from the California Department of Water Resources (California DWR), stated snow pack water content was at 114% of normal for historical averages — this baseline was established in 1966. A lot has happened in the subsequent 50 years, including stricter regulations, disputes over water rights and depletion of reservoirs to sustain valuable acreage. Large bodies of water are currently at vastly varying levels. For instance, Folsom Lake in the Sacramento Valley sits at 107% while New Melones Reservoir in the San Joaquin Valley is currently at 22% of capacity.
YTD Drought Stats from WY 2014 – Now
According to the California DWR, Water Years (WY) span from October 1 of one year, to September 30 of the next. The average totals of water in snow pack from 2015 (in WY 2014 – October 2014 to September 2015) came in at just shy of 23% – compared to this year’s 114%. The 495% increase over WY 2014 is a short term relief, but by no means does this drastic difference spell the end of the drought.
Trends in Irrigation Methods
Residential and commercial landscaping cutbacks through October 20163 mean that lawns and medians will have to wait to grow back again — after Gov. Brown’s Executive Order B-36-15 in 2014, a public service advertising campaign popularized the catch phrase “Keep California Golden”. Water conservation in agriculture calls for a different kind of approach. Data from the California Water Plan in 2013 indicates that in the previous 20 years, new orchards and vineyards were watered by drip or micro sprinkler irrigation, and from 1977 to 2010 gravity and sprinkler irrigation were on the decline2.
Since the crucial Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta rests essentially at sea level, it is at risk for imbalance with the lower inland water levels and influx of salt-rich seawater5. Filters and levees are in place to facilitate the natural ebb and flow, yet when inland levels draw in sea water further, the salinity presents problems for agriculture. The Delta waters represent a significant amount of water for wildlife and farming ecosystems and their levels are monitored closely by the DWR; storage and release is a delicate balance indeed.
Public conservation and strategic agricultural water usage can offset worries about the California drought that some scientists see as cyclical every 15 years4 — but this precious resource is something that should never be taken for granted.
- California Department of Water Resources (2016, February) California Snowpack Holds More Water than Last Year, But Drought Conditions Continue and So Should Conservation. Retrieved from: http://www.water.ca.gov/news/newsreleases/2016/020216snowsurvey-1.pdf
- California Water Plan (2013) Volume 3 – Resource Management Strategies, Chapter 2, Agricultural Water Use Efficiency. Retrieved from: http://www.waterplan.water.ca.gov/cwpu2013/final/
- California State Water Resources Control Board (2016) Executive Order B-36-15. Retrieved from: https://www.gov.ca.gov/docs/11.13.15_EO_B-36-15.pdf
- Rice, D (2014, Sept.) California’s 100-year drought. Retrieved from: http://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2014/09/02/california-megadrought/14446195/
- Water Education Foundation (n.d.) SACRAMENTO-SAN JOAQUIN DELTA AND SALINITY. Retrieved from: http://www.watereducation.org/aquapedia/sacramento-san-joaquin-delta-and-salinity