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The Drought Paradox in California….When is a Drought not a Drought?

Friday, Feb 10th, 2017

As we write this blog (February 9), there is a LOT of water in Northern California! The Sacramento River right above Fremont weir is flowing at 125,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) and climbing.  This equals more than 935,000 gallons per second or more than 3.366 billion gallons per hour.

As a result of all this water, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. on January 23 issued two emergency proclamations to secure funding to help communities respond to and recover from severe winter storms that have caused flooding, mudslides, erosion, debris flow and damage to roads and highways. Paradoxically, while Northern California and the Governor’s emergency team are preparing for floods and focusing on public safety, the State Water Board is talking about drought and it yesterday re-adopted statewide drought-related emergency regulations that ignore the hydrologic reality in Northern California and most of the state.

The prime reservoirs of the state and federal water projects are both so full that they are more than 130 percent of normal for this time of year.  Reservoirs throughout the state are filling rapidly.  San Luis Reservoir, which is reliant upon exports from the Delta is almost 90 percent full, which is 110 percent of normal. The Department of Water Resources reservoir graph below displays how full the state’s reservoirs are and keep in mind that it is only February 9th.  There are still months before the projects will begin making releases for water supply purposes.  Most of these projects are making releases to create capacity for flood storage.

Yes, there are certain areas of the state, such as Santa Barbara, that have not received much precipitation. The drought focus should be on these limited areas and it makes no sense to extend the drought into the same counties the Governor has proclaimed are in emergency as a result of flooding.

For a thoughtful discussion on the dynamics surrounding drought, see Jay Lund’s blog at: California Water Blog: California’s Wettest Drought – 2017.

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