Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Drought Busting Storms Hitting California?

I must say, it looks pretty good:

These were predicted at Watts Up With That a few days ago, and has been hanging in my open browser tabs: Drought buster? Up to 10 feet of snow this week for California’s Sierra Nevada.

Here is some good news for drought-stricken California; the latest forecast model output from WeatherBell suggests that the Sierra Nevada snow-pack will get a fresh dump of up to 10 feet of snow. The Sierra snow-pack has already been reported as above normal (at 136 percent of normal) in the most recent snow survey conducted by the California Department of Water Resources.
DWR Director Mark Cowin said the heavy snowfall so far during Water Year 2016 “has been a reasonable start, but another three or four months of surveys will indicate whether the snowpack’s runoff will be sufficient to replenish California’s reservoirs by this summer.”
Each water year begins on October 1 and ends on the following September 30. DWR conducts five media-oriented snow surveys in the Sierra Nevada each winter – near the first of January, February, March, April and May – at the Phillips Station plot (elevation 6,800 feet) just off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe Road 90 miles east of Sacramento. Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, said more than four years of drought have left a water deficit around the state that may be difficult to overcome in just one winter season.
“Clearly, this is much better that it was last year at this time, but we haven’t had the full effect of the El Niño yet,” Gehrke said. “If we believe the forecasts, then El Niño is supposed to kick in as we move through the rest of the winter. That will be critical when it comes to looking at reservoir storage.” The state’s largest six reservoirs currently hold between 22 percent (New Melones) and 53 percent (Don Pedro) of their historical averages in late December. Storage in Lake Shasta, California’s largest surface reservoir, is 51 percent of its December 30 average. [The December 30th] manual survey found a snow depth of 54.7 inches – 16 inches more than the average depth measured there since 1965 – and 16.3 inches of water content, 136 percent of the January 1 average for that site.
This forecast is to be expected, thanks to an El Niño pattern this winter which has already brought much needed precipitation to California. Storms are already stacked up in an west-to-east line as indicated by this satellite image:

It will take more than a few storms to break the drought. Water in California depends on the snow pack in the Sierras, and the storage in numerous reservoirs. At this point, many of the reservoirs are still quite depleted, and will months to fill.  One of those reservoirs is New Melones, which is near where my parents and brother Ted lives. You can see his picture essay on New Melones from July at Down to the old bridge and back:

And I can't pass by a reference to the California drought without this essay from Victor David Hanson, The Scorching of California: How Green extremists made a bad drought worse.
. . .Just as California’s freeways were designed to grow to meet increased traffic, the state’s vast water projects were engineered to expand with the population. Many assumed that the state would finish planned additions to the California State Water Project and its ancillaries. But in the 1960s and early 1970s, no one anticipated that the then-nascent environmental movement would one day go to court to stop most new dam construction, including the 14,000-acre Sites Reservoir on the Sacramento River near Maxwell; the Los Banos Grandes facility, along a section of the California Aqueduct in Merced County; and the Temperance Flat Reservoir, above Millerton Lake north of Fresno. Had the gigantic Klamath River diversion project not likewise been canceled in the 1970s, the resulting Aw Paw reservoir would have been the state’s largest man-made reservoir. At two-thirds the size of Lake Mead, it might have stored 15 million acre-feet of water, enough to supply San Francisco for 30 years.

California’s water-storage capacity would be nearly double what it is today had these plans come to fruition. It was just as difficult to imagine that environmentalists would try to divert contracted irrigation and municipal water from already-established reservoirs. Yet they did just that, and subsequently moved to freeze California’s water-storage resources at 1970s capacities.

All the while, the Green activists remained blissfully unconcerned about the vast immigration into California from Latin America and Mexico that would help double the state’s population in just four decades, to 40 million. Had population growth remained static, perhaps California could have lived with partially finished water projects. The state might also have been able to restore the flow of scenic rivers from the mountains to the sea, maintained a robust agribusiness sector, and even survived a four- or five-year drought. But if California continues to block new construction of the State Water Project as well as additions to local and federal water-storage infrastructure, officials must halve California’s population, or shut down the 5 million acres of irrigated crops on the Central Valley’s west side, or cut back municipal water usage in a way never before done in the United States.

When the drought began in autumn 2011, the average Californian barely noticed. Mountain reservoirs remained full throughout 2011 and much of 2012, thanks to ample rainfall in previous years. Though rain and snowfall plunged to as much as 40 percent below average in most inland counties, shortages affected only large agribusiness conglomerates on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley—a small group of corporate grandees with plenty of land and little public sympathy.

During that first year of drought, quarrels over water were mostly confined to farmers and environmentalists. Confident that stored surface water in mountain reservoirs would remain plentiful, the Greens insisted that the state continue to divert reservoir water away from agricultural usage—at roughly the same rate as during pre-drought years—in order to replenish rivers. In practical terms, however, the diversions meant that substantial amounts of stored snowmelt were released from mountain dams and allowed to flow freely to the Pacific Ocean. Farmers called that wasted water; environmentalists called it a return to a natural, preindustrial California. The Green dream was not simply river restoration and beautification, however. Bay Area environmentalists also believed that vastly increased freshwater inflows would help oxygenate the San Francisco Delta, thereby enabling the survival of the Delta smelt, a three-inch baitfish, while ensuring that salmon could be reintroduced into the San Joaquin River watershed. . . .
Read the whole thing.

So while we may see a little relief for California's water woes, real infrastructure investment is the only long term solution. California is a land where drought has come and gone through history, and the history would suggest that a mega-drought is not out of the question:

California lost it's way years ago in a silly reversion to childhood. Will they ever recover?

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