The San Diego County Water Authority announced Tuesday that it transferred water out of Lake Hodges for the first time to create room to capture rain and runoff from storms expected to move into the region this week. The Water Authority’s Emergency Storage Project allows the movement of water from Lake Hodges (above right) into Olivenhain Reservoir ( above left), and to San Vicente Reservoir in East County.
What if the heavy rains and flooding that impacted California this winter weren’t a surprise at all? Noel Diffenbaugh, a professor of earth system science at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, says the weather we experienced in January and February was exactly what climate change models predicted.
Photo: The Toulumne River flooding its banks in February.
Farmers, cities, water districts and environmental advocacy groups throughout California are waiting for Governor Brown and the State Water Resources Control Board to announce the end of the drought and the start of new water use regulations.
At stake are reduced water supplies if the state board mandates higher river flows to support spawning salmon and the wetlands that benefit juvenile salmon on their downstream migration to the ocean. And cities and water districts are concerned just how stringent the state board’s upcoming water conservation regulations — “Water Conservation as a Way of Life in California” — will be.
What’s interesting, however, are the farmers, cities, water districts and environmental advocacy groups that aren’t waiting for the state board. They are collaborating — bringing scientific expertise and research capabilities together with local knowledge — to develop solutions at the watershed level. They are also bringing into question whether regulation or cooperation is the most effective approach to California’s water issues.
San Francisco and Central Valley farmers
The city of San Francisco and Central Valley farmers have formed an unusual alliance and are proposing their own plan to restore the salmon population and wetlands on the Toulumne River.
Trout Unlimited and Sonoma Valley landowners
In the Sonoma Valley, Trout Unlimited and the Sonoma Ecology Center are working with landowners to increase increase flow in Sonoma Creek for Chinook Salmon and Steelhead.
Environmental Defense Fund and Central Valley farmers
And the Environmental Defense Fund is collaborating with Central Valley farmers on a new program to develop water markets that pay farmers for allocating land and water to habitat restoration projects benefiting salmon and river ecosystems.
Photo: the damaged spillway at Oroville Dam last week (source: yahoo.com)
In 1906, the State of California’s Department of Water Resources began measuring how much water flows into the Sacramento River when the Sierra snowpack melts. The first 50 years of data show river flow peaking in April. From the mid-1950s to 2007, however, the Sierra snowpack melted earlier and river flow peaked in March (See Figure 3-20 from the California Water Plan). Warmer temperatures caused the change, and continued warming could melt the snowpack even earlier in the decades ahead (See Figure 3-23 from the California Water Plan).
This is no small change for California’s dam operators, who lower reservoir levels in January, February and March to make room for the runoff caused by winter storms. This is critical to prevent flooding in Northern California. Oroville Dam, for example, captures the precipitation that falls in the 6,000 square mile expanse of the Feather River watershed. Now, and in the decades ahead, dam operators need to capture the melting Sierra snowpack in January, February and March, and manage flood control simultaneously.
Photo: Stranded car in floodwaters near San Rafael, California (source: abc7news.com)
The State Water Resources Control Board voted Wednesday to extend emergency drought regulations for another 270 days.
“This is an emergency?” asked State Senator Jim Nielsen. “It’s pretty hard to argue to the public, the citizens of California, that we are now in an emergency.”
A growing coalition of legislators and water suppliers that includes Nielsen, Helix Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority has called on the State Water Resources Control Board to end the emergency regulations. The coalition increased its efforts in the weeks leading up to yesterday’s vote, as rain, snow and flooding inundated California.
The coalition recommends managing current drought conditions at the regional level, as moderate and severe drought conditions are now limited to parts of Central and Southern California and extreme drought conditions are limited to areas of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
Our biggest storms are hurricane-scale storms. And there’s no place other than the hurricane belt that you get storms this big. So really, when we have a big, bad storm here, there’s no reason to apologize. Our big, bad storms are as bad as anyone else’s.Michael Dettinger
The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that it snowed the equivalent of 5.7 trillion gallons of water on California in January. On the first day of February, the snowpack in the Sierra is 108 percent of what it usually is on the first day of April.
This is the result of the atmospheric rivers that hit the state throughout the month — long, narrow bands of water that originate in the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean, travel across the ocean, and come onshore in California. Researchers tracked January’s storms from start to finish.