As December 2014 rolled in, we bid good-bye to the third-driest calendar year on record and hello to a series of storms that drenched much of the state, raising hopes for an end to the dreaded drought.
Now that 2015 is here can we relax? Not just yet. Even with the storms produced by December’s atmospheric river, also known as a Pineapple Express, we still have a ways to go.
Reservoirs Up but Far From Full
Before we get too far into the stats on just where we are now, it’s good idea to note that California’s water year—or the calendar year by which we measure our standing in terms of state reservoirs—ends each year on September 30.
As of September 30, 2014, state reservoirs were at 60% of average storage for that date, or about 41% of capacity. For the record, in 1977, the driest year on record, levels were considerably lower, but then again the state had 16 million fewer people who relied on these water resources.
Here’s a quick look at where reservoir capacities stood as of Dec. 31, 2014:
- Shasta Lake, California’s largest reservoir gained more than 800,000 acre-feet in December, rising from 39% of its historical average on December 1 to 66% by year’s end.
- Lake Oroville, California’s second-largest reservoir increased more than 430,000 acre-feet in December, upping its water levels from 43 to 62 percent of its historic average.
- Merced River exchequer reservoir, which serves California’s Central Valley, can hold more than one million acre-feet of water, but at the end of 2014, its storage stood at about 73,000 acre-feet, about 7% of total capacity and 16% of its historical average for late December.
Yes, the storms in December did help, but 78% of the state is still experiencing the extreme drought conditions that characterized 2014.
2014’s Record Warm Temperatures Continue to Plague Water Resources
What’s worse, 2014 was not only dry, it was also warm according to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. During the first nine months of the year, temperatures averaged 63.7 degrees, or 4.1 degrees warmer than the 20th century average of 59.6 degrees. Add to that the fact that temperatures from April to September averaged 70 degrees (breaking the 2013 record of 69.4 degrees for the same period) and you have what was indeed a hot, dry year.
California’s Snowpack Still Below Average
Then there’s snowpack, which in addition to water stored in reservoirs and water pumped from underground aquifers, is one of the main sources of water for the state.
As of late December 2014, the snowpack’s statewide average water equivalent (WEQ) was measured at 50% of normal levels for that time of year. And while current snowpack levels are better than they were in January 2014 when Governor Brown declared a drought emergency, it’s still not enough to meet demand.
Should we all be doing a rain (and snow) dance? Yes. State climatologists estimate that precipitation will have to be 150% of average for the entire water year (that’s till Sept. 30, 2015) for California to have a good chance at ending the drought this year. That’s a tall order and only Mother Nature knows if it will happen but there is something tangible we can all do in the meantime.
Rebates and Incentives Increase for Water Conservation Efforts
In an effort to get everyone on board and abide by Governor Brown’s call to reduce water usage by 20%, many state water agencies have extended water conservation rebate programs and increased rebates. For instance, rebates for [turf conversion], often called “Cash for Grass” programs, have increased from $1 to $2 per square foot of lawn in the Santa Clara Water Valley District, with a cap of $50,000 of rebates for any one project.
Additional rebates have also increased for water-wise landscape irrigation hardware, including weather-based irrigation or [smart controllers], rain sensors, high-efficiency nozzles, rotary sprinklers or spray bodies with pressure regulation or check valves, dedicated landscape meters, [flow sensors] and hydrometers.
Rebate programs vary city by city, so it’s best to check your local water district authority for details. So, in addition, to getting on your rain dance shoes and hoping that the weather gods bless us with more rain and snowfall in the coming months, why not do what you can do to help end this drought? Call your local water authority and find out what programs and rebates exist for your area.