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Executive Summary for February 10th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments in California including sinking land in the San Joaquin Valley and a decision about conservation regulations. We also look at the latest information on drought and flood conditions.

Published on Feb. 10, 2017 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Sinking Reality

Even though California is awash in water right now, the state is still feeling the effects of decades of unsustainable groundwater withdrawals, according to a new report from NASA, which found the most troubling areas to be in California’s agricultural hub – the San Joaquin Valley.

“The rates of San Joaquin Valley subsidence documented since 2014 by NASA are troubling and unsustainable,” said Department of Water Resources director William Croyle. “Subsidence has long plagued certain regions of California. But the current rates jeopardize infrastructure serving millions of people. Groundwater pumping now puts at risk the very system that brings water to the San Joaquin Valley. The situation is untenable.”

At risk are key pieces of California’s water infrastructure. The study found that overpumping of groundwater in Arenal in Kings County has caused the California Aqueduct, the primary delivery system of the State Water Project, to drop 2ft (60cm) – resulting in a 20 percent decrease in the design capacity that could affect water deliveries this year.

Other infrastructure impacted also includes the Delta-Mendota canal, a key part of the Central Valley Project, where there has been nearly 2ft (60cm) of recent subsidence, and the Eastside Bypass in Fresno County, which helps with flood control.

Drought Update

Areas of California impacted by the more than five-year drought continue to fall each week, as the state is experiencing more atmospheric rivers delivering rain, high winds and snow, and contributing to flooding and mudslides.

The U.S. Drought Monitor continues to show receding drought-impacted areas across the state and decreases in the severity of drought. None of the state is experiencing exceptional drought, the worst designation, and the area experiencing extreme drought on the South Coast has fallen to less than 1 percent of the state.

Precipitation numbers are on track to top the wettest year on record, 1982 to 1983, with precipitation as of February 9 for the northern Sierra Nevada at 219 percent of average, 225 percent of average for the central region and 227 percent of average for the southern region.

The National Weather Service has flood and flash flood advisories issued for much of northern and central California.

Conservation Regulations Continue

The State Water Resources Control Board voted this week to extend conservation regulations that had been set to expire despite the onslaught of wet weather and pushback from a coalition of water agencies.

The agencies contend that keeping the regulation sends a mixed message to customers, who may be less apt to conserve when water is more scarce if drought conditions continue even during wet weather.

The water board maintains that parts of California remain in a drought and the water season is not over yet and could swing to the opposite extreme.

But in a recent story for Water Deeply, the Pacific Institute’s Peter Gleick points out that even the term “drought” is complicated in California.

“Asking if the drought is over or not – that’s the wrong question to ask,” Gleick said. “When someone asks that, what is it they really want to know? It might be a farmer wondering if they will get water this year. It could be a salmon fisherman wondering if there is going to be a fishing season. It could also be a homeowner wanting to know if they can water their lawn again and wash their car.”

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