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California’s Drought continues despite our recent Rainfall

Feb 08, 2010 by Sean Belk

Our recent storms across the Southland Basin have brought above average amounts of rain, hail, and snow which are atypical to the Southland. That fact, begets the title of this story:

Rain Girls

With all the recent rain, you might think that California’s Drought is over, and it’s time to throw a party, unplug a fire hydrant, and start dancing in the streets.

Well, don’t start any celebrations now—we’re not quite there yet.

Although the torrential downpours have helped push water reserves closer to where they need to be for this season, California officials are careful to remind us to be cognizant about the state’s scarce water supply.

Our recent rains did help fill some local lakes and reservoirs, but overall, the amount of our water reserves has been depleting over the last few years. We’re now well into California’s fourth straight year of drought.

Those parts of Los Angeles County located in high-elevation canyons and hills, have received more than 20 inches of rainfall, starting from October 2009 to the beginning of this month, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (LADPW).

Lower elevation areas have received closer to 12 inches, mostly due to the large storms that rolled in two weeks ago, and over this weekend.

Los Angeles usually gets an average rainfall of only 14.8 inches per year, so we still need more rain to make up for the previous years of Drought. However, the recent rain is definitely much needed, especially the snow–as the snow provides us with the water when the snowpack melts in the spring from the mountains.

Was the latest Rain enough to cure California’s Drought?

Using data released by the State of California’s water department, experts say more snowpack and rains are needed this winter for the state’s water supplies to get back to average levels again.

The reasons for our severe drought are numerous, but are mostly due to the low levels of rainfall over the last three years. Indeed, the rainfall in California has been so meager, that the conditions have created a downward trend which will take a long time to improve.

The drought conditions are also the result of a series of other causes, mainly over-population, groundwater contamination, wasted water at farms, households and businesses, levies drying up because of increased temperatures, old infrastructure, and a myriad of push and pull circumstances.

These drought conditions are also partially fueled by the economics and politics of water restrictions and rights, and the potential costs of pumping out fresh water from river systems. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which not only provides nearly half of our water supply, is also vital to wildlife and fish, including the delta smelt and salmon, that are at the epicenter of various environmental disputes..

Rain and more rain

For the most part, Southern Californians don’t think twice about water conservation. We know that when you turn the facet on, if you’ve paid your water bill, then most likely water will flow out. We also know that if you plan on getting a car wash from the rain, you’ll probably be waiting around for quite a long time.

The point being is nowadays, rain is a rarity here. No wonder it seems people use water like there’s no tomorrow.

When will our Drought end?

There’s still a few months left until the end of winter, and various experts and climatologists, estimate that our snowpack levels have to remain at this level until April 1–which is considered the peak accumulation for the season.

The Department of Water Resources has concluded the following from its most recent snow measurement survey:

“Manual and electronic readings by the end of January indicated that water content in California’s mountain snowpack is 115 percent of normal for the date statewide. This time last year, snow water content was 61 percent of normal statewide. Lake Oroville, the principal storage reservoir for the State Water Project, is at 33% of capacity, and at 50% of the average storage for this time of year. Lake Shasta, the principal storage reservoir for the Federal Central Valley Project, is at 56% of capacity, and at 82% of the average for this time of year.”

Climate change is also a factor. With wetter storms and El Nino conditions continuing, this crates more rain and less snowfall.

The state, however, is still holding back on water supplies and aquifers, estimating that the DWR is only able to “deliver 5 percent of the requested amount of water this year, reflecting low storage levels, ongoing drought conditions, and environmental restrictions on water deliveries to protect fish species.”

As a result expect the rationing of water. This will affect most people in the pocket book significantly, as water rates increase and some cities start handing out fines for wasting water.


What are some solutions to our drought conditions?

To address the state’s declared water emergency, it’s proposed implementing the Safe, Clean and Reliable Drinking Water Supply Act of 2010, an $11.14 billion general obligation bond offering. This proposed bond measure will add funding for California’s aging water infrastructure, and for projects and programs to address the myriad of ecosystem, and water supply issues in California. Under the proposed California bond issuance proposal, the counties of Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura will receive $856 million for Water Supply Reliability, and other water management programs. Subsequently and in tandem, other water conservation projects in the South Coast region will also be eligible for a share of the $6.38 billion for regional and statewide funding.

Although new legislation and funding proposals should improve the state’s waterway systems, water will cost households more, and will continue to increase, if steps aren’t taken to limit consumption or find alternative water sources.

Other solutions include implementing desalination plants, where salt is extracted from water, or reverse osmosis. These processes cost more, but are a viable alternative for select cities such as Long Beach, which recently received $1.3 million in federal funding for seawater desalination and recycled water projects.

Recycled water, another alternative, is made through treatment plants, bacteria storage, and through sand, gravel and anthracite coal. A fourth way is through reverse osmosis, or micro filtration.

While desalination and other new innovative methods to obtain water are high in cost, the costs for imported water are becoming increasingly unsustainable, so these proposed alternatives are more likely to be implemented as part of a comprehensive solution to meet Southern Californian’s water needs.

It’s amazing what a few drops of water can accomplish; but when it’s not there, life ceases to exist. Especially when living in a big city like Los Angeles.

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2 Responses to “California’s Drought continues despite our recent Rainfall”

  1. Ed akr says:

    This is such propoganda that I can’t even believe I am reading this. The ONLY solution is a “an $11.14 billion general obligation bond offering.” Are you joking? How much of this cash goes into Villaragosa’s pocket?

    It is RAINING right now. For the eighth time in two weeks. Amazing


    seanbelk Reply:

    @Ed akr, thank you for your commenting, just reporting the facts here. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has reported that water levels have dropped significantly for the past three dry years and it will take quite a lot of rain, particularly snow for levels to subside to what they need to be, according to the state. If you have any figures saying otherwise please send them my way. With all the rain we are getting, parts of LA County recently received as much as 30 inches of rain. So, if things continue, this season could very well tip the scales. But again, this issue is very complicated, political and controversial, affecting all sorts of industries and special interests. As far as solutions, in addition to the $11.14 general obligation bond, many parts of the state are working on things like desalination, efforts to catch rain water and recycled water projects, and many others which I mentioned in the article. Thanks again for your response.


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