In the News
Dry Winter Leaves Reservoirs At Near Record Lows Dry times in the West are putting the squeeze on strained water supplies. Though a drought has not been declared, the Southwest’s dry winter has put its water year between a dry and critical designation. “We would still describe our situation as severe drought,” said J.C. Davis, spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority. The region is getting by in part because of long-standing conservation measures, Davis said, noting that last year’s consumption was 32 billion gallons lower than it was in 2002, despite the addition of 400,000 residents during that span.
In the Upper Colorado River Basin, Lake Powell is 106 feet below its full pool elevation of 3,700 feet and 45 percent of its full pool capacity of 24,322,000 acre-feet (an acre-foot is 325,851 gallons).
California, which relies on a robust Sierra Nevada snowpack for about one- third of its water supply, is feeling the effects of a winter that saw a snowpack with a water content 17 percent of normal (water content is the depth of water that would theoretically result if the entire snowpack melted instantaneously). As a result, State Water Project contractors received only 35 percent of their requested amount of more than 4 million acre-feet, or slightly less than 1.5 million acre-feet.
SWP deliveries “can vary all over the place from year to year,” said Terry Erlewine, general manager of the State Water Contractors. In wet years, supply can be as much as 4 million acre-feet, but average is about 2.6 million acre-feet. The 35 percent allocation is slightly less than 1.5 million acre-feet or about 1.1 million acre-feet below average, according to Erlewine. SWP contractors have experienced shortages in their deliveries in 13 of the past 14 years. Within Kern County Water Agency and other SWP agricultural contractors, most of the shortages are taken up through additional groundwater extractions, which translate into pumping costs and overdraft. After a promising start, the state’s water year came to a crashing halt, with the January through May stretch seeing the lowest amount of recorded precipitation ever in a fi ve-month period, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. The dryness has pushed the San Luis Reservoir in Merced County to 39 percent of the 15-year average.
Reclamation expects Folsom Lake to fall to one-fourth its capacity, or 241,000 acre-feet, by December. With another dry winter, the lake could drop to a “dead pool” level – too low for water agencies to pull water from it. Meanwhile, the Central Valley Project’s New Melones Reservoir in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties is expected to drop below 1 million acre-feet, something that hasn’t happened since March 30, 1995. On July 24, the National Weather Service said “severe to exceptional drought” exists in most of Nevada and Eastern California.
“Many ranchers in Nevada and Eastern California will struggle to provide cattle with water, feed and other nutrients,” the statement said. “There may be signifi cant water shortages in some areas as surface water sources disappear. There is intense competition between wildlife and livestock for water in some auras. A few ranchers in the hardest impacted areas of central Nevada have deiced to sell their ranches due to severe economic losses.” ❖
– Gary Pitzer
Read our 2012 Annual Report, www.watereducation.org
July/August 2013 3
Whe e We Are
August 30 Project WET Workshop
Brian Brown, California Project WET Coordinator Catheys Valley, CA
September 25 Delta Projects Tour Water Education Foundation and The Coalition to Support Near-Term Delta Projects, cosponsors Renée Cashmere, tour director
September 25-26 Project WET Workshop
Sacramento Municipal Utilities District Brian Brown, California Project WET Coordinator Sacramento, CA
Biennial Groundwater Conference Water Education Foundation, organizing entity
October 16-18 Water Education Foundation Northern California Tour
Renée Cashmere, tour director Sacramento, CA
October 18 Project WET Workshop CSU Sacramento
Brian Brown, California Project WET Coordinator Sacramento, CA
October 19 Project WET Workshop Effi e Yeaw Nature Center
Brian Brown, California Project WET Coordinator Carmichael, CA
October 24-26 California Science Teachers Conference Brian Brown, California Project WET Coordinator
Palm Springs, CA
November 7-8 Water Education Foundation San Joaquin River Restoration Tour Renée Cashmere, tour director Fresno, CA
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