Recent CA Storms Won’t End Water Crisis Say Experts

CA Governor Gavin Newsom visits storm-damaged areas earlier this week. PHOTO: Governor’s Office.

California continues to battle a series of significant storms, bringing much needed rain to the entire state, but not solving the ongoing water crisis. The storms, which have been described as “atmospheric rivers,” are another indication of the impact of climate change and the urgent need to adapt the California water system to handle large volumes of water in very short periods of time, say representatives of Solve the Water Crisis, which is led by water agency leaders across California. Climate change has also caused snow packs to melt earlier in the Winter season, making less water available for allocations in Spring and Summer months.

“While we are encouraged by the recent storm events providing much needed water to our dry state, the significant rainfall is not enough to offset the historic drought conditions that continue to plague California, our economy, businesses, and our communities,” said Craig Miller, General Manager of Western Municipal Water District and a leader of Solve the Water Crisis.

Top officials at California’s Department of Water Resources echo these concerns, “No single storm event will end the drought. We’ll need consecutive storms, month after month after month of above-average rain, snow and runoff to help really refill our reservoirs so that we can really start digging ourselves out of extreme drought,” said Sean de Guzman, manager of snow surveys for the Department of Water Resources.

Better Storage Needed

Despite the incredible downpour this month, experts throughout the State are cautioning that the drought is far from over and the long-term water supply crisis will continue. History has proven that a wet start to a new year does not always indicate a wet year to come because the system is incapable of collecting and storing water in wet periods to use in dry periods.

At an elevation of 6,800′ most of the snow had melted at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains by Spring 2022.

Just last year at this time, “snow depths were reaching 150% of normal levels” but then California experienced the driest January, February, and March on record, pushing the Golden State into a third year of consecutive drought and going down as the driest three-year period in 1,200 years.

In addition to the water storage limitations, the storms also highlight the need to address flood control deficiencies in the state water system infrastructure to protect against existing and increasing flood risk and damage. While improved infrastructure can’t prevent all flooding, California’s water supply system must be redesigned to more effectively protect life and property. Recent fire and flood events demonstrate the need for generational infrastructure investments so California can manage these extreme water events, including capturing flood flows and moving them to storage, for use during future dry years.

With trillion gallons of water expected to fall on California as a result of these recent storm events, it’s more important than ever to assess how we are capturing and storing this significant amount of rain to use in the future.

“History has proven time and again that we can’t rely on a wet start to a year to pull us out of decades of drought. The significant challenges we face as a result of changing and worsening climate conditions not only require all water managers to work together, but also requires bold action by California’s policymakers to change state water policy and address infrastructure constraints and limitations,” said Heather Dyer, General Manager of San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District and a leader of Solve the Water Crisis. “The failure of the system to properly manage water supply in wet and dry periods requires a comprehensive long-term solution.”

For more on California’s water crisis, see “CA Governor Calls For Ban On Irrigating ‘Non Functional’ Turfgrass”

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