Executive Summary for January 13th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments in California, including the recent wet weather’s impact on the drought. We also look at the future chances of extreme storms and the push for new dams.

Published on Jan. 13, 2017 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Drought Diminishes

A week has made a big difference to California’s drought after a series of storms brought rain and snow to the state, helping to lift some areas completely out of drought.

According to the most recent information released by the U.S. Drought Monitor, just over 40 percent of the state is no longer in drought – up from 32 percent last week. While the northern part of the state above the San Francisco Bay Area is drought-free, drought conditions persist in the central and southern parts, including the Central Valley, the heart of the California agricultural business.

Half of the state is experiencing conditions ranging from severe to exceptional drought, the driest pocket being the Santa Barbara area.

Rainfall during the week exceeded 200 percent of normal in Northern California and the water content of the snowpack was more than 135 percent of normal.

Doug Carlson, an information officer with the state’s Department of Water Resources, said the water year so far is “undoubtedly in the top five.”

More Extreme Weather in Future

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have reported in a new study that as temperatures increase California should expect more frequent episodes of extreme precipitation.

“The researchers developed a new technique that predicts the frequency of local, extreme rainfall events by identifying telltale large-scale patterns in atmospheric data,” explained Science Daily. The researchers found that by the end of the century if global average temperatures rise by 7.2 F (4 C), California will be at risk of three more extreme precipitation events each year, which is 50 percent more than currently.

The findings, published in the Journal of Climate, are based on tracking large-scale atmospheric patterns with climate models. “We’ve actually found there’s a connection between what climate models do really well – which is to simulate large-scale motions of the atmosphere – and local, heavy precipitation events,” Adam Schlosser, senior research scientist in MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, told Science Daily. “We can use this association to tell how frequently these events are occurring now, and how they will change locally, like in New England, or the west coast.”

Dam Time

There’s nothing like a good rainstorm to get people talking about building more dams, which is exactly what Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) did.

Gallagher led a group of lawmakers this week to the proposed location for Sites Reservoir, which would siphon water from the Sacramento River to feed the offset storage, the Sacramento Bee reported.

“Sites’ funding, at least in part, may also be tied to Gov. Jerry Brown’s Delta tunnels,” the newspaper said. “Sacramento Valley irrigation districts intend to fund Sites and were appealing to the state for additional support through Proposition 1. Backers were also tapping water agencies outside the Sacramento Valley for support, but some of those agencies may be unlikely to invest until Brown’s tunnel project moves forward, ensuring the water can reach their districts south of the Delta.”

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