California Drought Update
April 2, 2014
Peter Gleick – Significant Figures:
Effectively 100% of California is experiencing abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions, as reported by the U.S. Drought Monitor.(click here for larger)
Below – This map shows the extraordinary precipitation deficit since the start of California’s water year on October 1st from NOAA’s Climate Data Center through March 20th.
A key component of California’s water supply system is the winter storage of snowpack and its slow release during spring and summer months. Rains in the past week have slightly boosted snowpack, but as of March 30, the Sierra Nevada current snowpack remains near record lows and the water storage is only 29% of normal.
Drought-weary California got more bad news Tuesday.
Though late-season storms slightly boosted the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, it’s still far below normal as the spring melt fast approaches.
“This is dismal news for farms and cities that normally depend on the snowpack – often called California’s largest reservoir – for a third of their water,” according to a release from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR).
“Coupled with this winter’s scant rainfall, the meager snowpack — containing only 32% of average water content for the date — promises a gloomy summer for California farms and many communities.”
Surveyors from the DWR skied high into the Sierra Nevada on Tuesday to measure the amount of snow there — a spring ritual in the drought-plagued state. The measurement goes a long way toward pinpointing the state’s water supply this summer.
The state measures the snowpack in the northern, central and southern Sierra each month during the wet season, typically from October through March. The Sierra snowpack is vital because it stores water that melts in the spring as runoff. Communities and farmers depend on it during California’s hot, dry summers.
California is the nation’s most populous state, with a population of nearly 40 million people, and the state’s economy is the world’s eighth largest, according to a 2013 report from the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy.
“We’re already seeing farmland fallowed and cities scrambling for water supplies,” said DWR director Mark Cowin. “We can hope that conditions improve, but time is running out, and conservation is the only tool we have against nature’s whim.”
The April 1 survey is critical because it marks the peak of the snowpack. In January, the water content was only 12% of normal, the lowest snowpack on record.
Recent snow and rain — the first significant precipitation in weeks — was too little and too late to have much impact on this year’s statewide drought, the DNR reported. Snowpack and rain measurements are so far below normal for this time of year that even sustained rainfall won’t end the drought.