Article appears in San Diego's North County Times
The past week's late-winter storms have washed away worries about a possible drought this year, water officials say.
The year ending June 30 is still shaping up as a dry one, so continued water conservation is needed, state and local officials say. But enough water is in storage or available to import that no mandatory restrictions are being considered.
Water content in California's snowpack jumped from 32 percent of normal to 46 percent of normal from March 12 to March 19, said David Rizzardo, chief of snow surveys for the state Department of Water Resources. The water year began July 1 and ends June 30.
"Last week was definitely the best storm we've had this winter," Rizzardo said Monday. "It's the kind of winter storm we'd like to get a few of a year."
The snowpack provides an important source of water during the dry spring and summer months to replenish reservoirs.
The northern Sierra Nevada now hold snow equivalent to 14 inches of water, or 52 percent of normal, Rizzardo said. Normally at this time of year, the northern Sierra Nevada should hold 27 to 28 inches of snow water equivalent.
The department's biggest reservoirs also look in good shape as of Monday. That's mainly due to storage from last year's above-average precipitation, Rizzardo said. Other key water measurements:
- Lake Shasta, the state's biggest reservoir, holds 76 percent of its capacity of 4.5 million acre-feet, representing 96 percent of its historical average. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, or the amount used by two average single-family households of four in a year.
- Lake Oroville is 78 percent full, 105 percent of average to date. The reservoir holds 3.5 million acre-feet of water.
These huge reservoirs are meant for multiyear storage to tide the state over in dry years, Rizzardo said.
SoCal outlook promising
Southern California's outlook is good, said Bob Muir, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Water District, California's biggest water wholesaler. Metropolitan supplies water agencies throughout the region, including San Diego and Riverside counties.
With its anticipated deliveries of Northern California water from the State Water Project and from the Colorado River, along with its own storage, Metropolitan can meet demand, Muir said.
State Water Project deliveries to Metropolitan for the next water year are now set at 50 percent of normal, a number that may increase in coming weeks as the recent storms are factored into the supply outlook.
Metropolitan has just under 1 million acre-feet in storage in the reservoirs it owns, Muir said, plus more elsewhere.
Metropolitan holds 748,000 acre-feet in Diamond Valley Lake, Metropolitan's biggest reservoir. That's 92 percent of the 810,000-acre-feet capacity of the lake, located near Hemet. Metropolitan paid $2 billion to build the reservoir, which was completed in 1999.
"This is a testament to the investment Southern California's made, because we were truly able to take advantage of last year's extraordinarily wet conditions, and we were able to bulk up our reserves," Muir said.
Metropolitan also stores water in Lake Mead near Las Vegas and in groundwater basins in California's Central Valley and Southern California, Muir said.
"By the end of the year, we could have almost 3 million acre-feet of water in storage," Muir said. "That's more than we've ever had in our history."
Diamond Valley Lake and the related Inland Feeder project that connects to the reservoir and Metropolitan's Colorado River Aqueduct have greatly increased Southern California's flexibility to import water when it's plentiful, Muir said.
The Inland Feeder cost $1.2 billion, and water began flowing through its 44 miles of pipes in 2009.
The regional outlook
San Diego County likewise begins spring with a decent amount of water on hand and expected to be delivered, said Dana Friehauf, principal water resources specialist for the San Diego County Water Authority. The authority supplies local water agencies in the county that sell to residents and businesses.
"Reservoir levels are at average, which is a good thing, so we will not be having shortages this year," Friehauf said.
As of Monday, the authority's reservoirs contain 331,000 acre-feet, Friehauf said. That's about 57 percent of their capacity of 586,500 acre-feet.
In Southwest Riverside County, Metropolitan's diligence in storing water has paid dividends in water security, said John Rossi, general manager of the Western Municipal Water District. The district supplies Lake Elsinore and Canyon Lake, along with much of Temecula and Murrieta.
"This weekend's rain and snow will likely maintain the State Water Project's delivery estimate for the coming year of 50 percent, and it appears to be another dry year," Rossi said in an email. "Thankfully, Metropolitan has been able to put over a million acre-feet into storage in the past year, so we start the year in a better position than in the past."