Water Supply Conditions

It looks like California is headed for a long dry summer. It’s not unusual for temperatures to reach 110 degrees during the summer months in the valley. The question in everyone’s mind is: will there be enough water stored in the reservoirs to meet all the state’s needs? Probably.

Even though the last manual seasonal snow survey at the Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains showed the state had a dry winter – further confirmed by the other 130 sensors embedded throughout the mountain range reporting only 37% of the average May snowpack – there will be enough water. The caveat being we have a summer with average high temperatures, that a high-pressure system doesn’t squat over the state, and there are no major dam or levee failures.

The United States Drought Monitor https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ shows that more than half of California is in drought status ranging from abnormally dry to extreme drought. Putting it in perspective, only the far north area of the state bordering Oregon is in extreme drought status which means, water is inadequate for agriculture, wildlife, and urban needs. Abnormal and moderate drought indicates that soil is dry, stock ponds and creeks are low, and earlier-than-normal irrigation begins. Severe drought status is where water restrictions might come into play. This status means river flows decrease, reservoir levels drop exposing banks and water diversions may be needed to protect fish. For comparison purposes, last year 94% of California was drought free whereas only 41.8% is in that status this year and that is mostly in the southern part of the state.

According to the Department of Water Resources, http://cdec.water.ca.gov/ reservoir levels in California are in good shape – Shasta is at 78% capacity and Oroville is at 69%. While not as robust as last year’s above average levels, still adequate. Most of the southern reservoirs are still at historic average levels.

But the state faces dry conditions. The last drought brought about a systemic change in how water is viewed and how it is regulated. Water is now seen as a finite resource to be used carefully and wisely. Groundwater is now undergoing a process to bring over-drafted basins in sustainability. Agricultural water districts and urban water districts developed plans to continue to serve their customers in drought conditions when water supplies are restricted. Water users, agriculture, residential and business, implemented long-term conservation measures that endure today.

While a long dry summer may be in store, Californians are better prepared to cope than we were during the 2011 to 2014 drought for a normal summer season.

Valerie Nera, Policy Advocate