Western Water has provided
in-depth coverage of critical water issues facing California and
the West since 1977, first as a printed magazine and now as an
online newsroom. Articles explore the science, policy and
debates centered around drought, groundwater,
sustainability, water access and affordability, climate change
and endangered species involving key sources of supply such as
the Colorado River, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and more.
Western Water news is produced by a team of veteran
journalists at the Water Education Foundation:
Photos of brimming lakes and reservoirs, flowing rivers and
raging waterfalls have been splashed across news headlines and in
social media. It’s a welcome change from last year when
California was entering its fifth year of drought.
Yet, the reservoirs are filling because the snow is melting
early, not necessarily because the state has more water that fell
as snow or rain this winter.
The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) will conduct
its final snow survey of the season within the next two weeks,
shining a clearer light on the summer’s water picture and
lingering drought conditions.
The data collection and subsequent
forecasting will provide vital information for water supply
operations and allocations to districts and contractors around
the state. More snow means basically more water for downstream
users – whether city residents or rural farmers.
Sticking a measuring pole into the snow in the Sierra and
crunching the numbers to create a forecast has been done since
1928. Current forecasting efforts and the state’s data network
are the backbone of crafting a drought response and an
early-warning system for flood emergency response.
“Gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict and
litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water
to supply the land.” Geologist and Explorer John Wesley Powell at an
irrigator convention in 1883.
“In 1883 we had very little understanding of what the flows of
the Colorado River were,
we had less understanding of the incredible changes in the
climate that would be happening over the course of the next 100
years, which we finally came to realize as we entered this
century,” said Pat Mulroy, who served as general manager of the
Southern Nevada Water
Authority from 1989 to 2014.
California had its warmest winter on record in 2014-2015, with
the average Sierra Nevada temperature hovering above 32 degrees
Fahrenheit – the highest in 120 years. Thus, where California
relies on snow to fall in the mountains and create a snowpack
that can slowly melt into reservoirs, it was instead raining.
That left the state’s snowpack at its lowest ever – 5 percent on
April 1, 2015.
Because he relays stats like these, climate scientist Brad Udall
says he doesn’t often get invited back to speak before the same
audience about climate change.