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Water supplies assessed as third year in row dawns dry

'Slow-moving and regional' crisis may be declared

Posted: January 6, 2014 6:47 p.m.
Updated: January 6, 2014 6:47 p.m.

Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the California Department of Water Resources, left, leads his group out to measure snow levels near Echo Summit, Calif., on Friday. The Associated Press

SANTA CLARITA - On the heels of two consecutive years of record low precipitation, early 2014 indicators — among them dwindling snow packs and continuing rainfall shortages — have water officials bracing for a third dry year in California.

So why hasn’t Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought? The Signal put that question to the governor’s office Monday.

“If there is any action from the governor in the weeks/months ahead, we will definitely let you know,” Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said.

At the moment, however, Brown has set up a Drought Task Force to assess effects of the current often-record-setting dry spell, said Richard Stapler, spokesman for the California Department of Natural Resources.

Declaring a drought is a “little different than declaring a national emergency,” Stapler said, calling drought a “slow-moving and regional” crisis — as opposed to a sudden up-ending disaster.

Assessing drought means assessing how much water we have.

“Reservoir levels, runoff projections are the key hydrologic factors,” said Ted Thomas, spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources. “Runnoff projections” refers the amount of water stored in snow packs, especially in the Sierra Nevada.

“Also considered are actual or potential impacts, which may include health and safety, wildfire danger, etc.”

On Friday, water resource officials delivered more bad news on the water front.

Water resource officials said they went looking for snow in Northern California and found a lot of bare ground. Water from snow pack runoff is what replenishes the state’s creeks and rivers.

“As California’s dry weather pushes into the new year,” water resource officials said in a new release, “The Department of Water Resources announced that its first snow survey of the winter found more bare ground than snow.”

Melted snow from Northern California accounts for about half the water consumed by residents of the Santa Clarita Valley, administered locally through the Castaic Lake Water Agency.

Manual and electronic readings record the snow pack’s statewide water content at about 20 percent of average for this time of year.

“While we hope conditions improve, we are fully mobilized to streamline water transfers and take every action possible to ease the effects of dry weather on farms, homes and businesses as we face a possible third consecutive dry year,” Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said.

In November, Water Resources notified the state’s 29 water agencies contracting with the state for water — which includes Castaic Lake Water Agency — that they would receive 5 percent of the Northern California water they requested.

Agency General Manager Dan Masnada says Santa Clarita Valley residents need not worry; the water wholesaler’s “water supply portfolio is in relatively good shape.”

“With some precipitation during these winter months, we won’t even need to utilize banked water to meet 2014 demands,” he said. “If it stays dry through 2015, it would be more of a challenge but, again due to our past actions to store/bank water, we would be able to meet retailer demands.”

Downtown Los Angeles — the area closest to the Santa Clarita Valley monitored by state officials — recorded its driest year in 60 years with just 3.4 inches of rainfall in 2013. The previous record low rainfall for L.A. was in 4.08 inches of rain recorded in 1953.

According to the Department of Water Resources, water years 2012 and 2013 were dry statewide, especially in parts of the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. The exception was seen in parts of San Diego County last year where monsoon rains replenished water supplies.

Several areas in the San Joaquin Delta — across which Northern California water is delivered here — reported record low precipitation, according to the water resources department.

San Francisco logged its lowest rainfall in almost 100 years last year, having received less than a third of the rainfall it usually expects. Not even six inches of rainfall fell on the city last year. The record previous record low for San Francisco was 9 inches of rainfall reported in 1917.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt




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