Can California’s dams adapt?

Can California’s dams adapt?

Photo: the damaged spillway at Oroville Dam last week (source: yahoo.com)

California’s State Water Project collects snowmelt from the Northern Sierra in Lake Oroville and moves the water in aqueducts to Central California farms and Southern California cities. The project’s design is based on two key tenets: that the Sierra snowpack stores up to 30 percent of the state’s water supply through the winter, and that the snow melts just in time to meet the summer water demands of crops and cities. But data tells a different story.

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.

Read the Christian Science Monitor Story

State extends emergency drought regulations

State extends emergency drought regulations

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.

What we know now about atmospheric rivers

What we know now about atmospheric rivers

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

Research Hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey

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.

Read about atmospheric rivers in News Deeply

What is this atmospheric river flowing into California?

What is this atmospheric river flowing into California?

This weekend, a second atmospheric river will flow into, and on to, California, with the estimated snowfall in the Sierra up to 20 feet. The storm could also cause dangerous flooding throughout northern and central California. Curious? Click on the first link below for a San Jose Mercury News story explaining what atmospheric rivers are. Click on the second link if you want to dig deeper into the science of these phenomena.

Explaining the atmospheric river that’s bringing our weekend storm

Atmospheric River Q&A

Carlsbad desalination plant turns one

Carlsbad desalination plant turns one

When the nation’s largest seawater desalination plant started commercial production last December, it was a historic victory for San Diego County and an entire drought-weary state. One year later, the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant has produced nearly 15 billion gallons (57bn liters) of drinking water.

Read the Water Deeply story

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