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Water Management in CA During Drought Has Much to Teach Us

reicherdt, klaus, waterless coIt is very important that we, as a nation, continue to monitor the drought situation in California and how the state deals with it.  And fortunately, there is some good news to report. Unfortunately, there is some bad news as well.

First, as most of us know, the state has recorded some significant rainfall in the past couple of months.  Further, measurements of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides water for a large portion of California, showed more snow than it did last year at this time, according to recent measurements.  For instance, at one measurement station near Sacramento, more than 21 inches of snow were recorded.  This time last year, there was only 9.3 inches measured at this station.

The snowpack is very important because while rainfall helps replenish current water supplies—and provide badly needed moisture for landscaping and vegetation—it is the melting of the snowpack in spring and summer that provides the bulk of the state’s water throughout the year.  However, according to Mark Cowin, California’s Department of Water Resources Director, “Although this year’s survey shows a deeper snowpack than last year, California needs much more rain and snow than we’ve experienced over the past two years to end the drought.”

He reached this conclusion because as of the first of this year, snowpack measurements are less than half of what is normally recorded at this time of year.  Further, another spokesperson for the state’s Department of Water Resources says that while there is more snow, “the snow isn’t as wet as we’d like.” Wet snow has higher liquid content, resulting in more water.  Plus, “there’s just not enough snow to give us confidence that we’re [going to have] an exceptionally wet year [in 2015],” said the spokesperson.

The bottom line, according to Matt Stevens, a writer for the Los Angeles Times, is “a sizable snowpack [far more than we have received so far] will be necessary to keep reservoirs filled when temperatures rise and rain becomes scarce. Recent storms, though, have brought some hope for relief.”

That’s the good news and the bad news in a nutshell. But, after four years of drought, the bigger issue is while things are looking up, at least for the moment, why has the current drought not had more impact on the state’s 35 million residents along with its mega economy?  While there are some restrictions in place, and more to be implemented in 2015, these conservation efforts have had less impact on Californians today compared to previous restrictions placed on residents during past droughts.  Even with approximately 15 million fewer people living in the state compared to today’s estimated population, residents were asked to cut their water consumption essentially in half in order to endure previous droughts.

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