Executive Summary for March 16th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including slim chances for a “March miracle” snowpack, efforts to fund sustainable groundwater management, and worrying conservation numbers.

Published on March 16, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

March Miracle? Not Likely

With more snow and rain in the forecast for California in the coming days, hopes are up for a “March miracle” to boost snowpack, but we’re still not there, says UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain.

Last week, after feet of snow fell in the Sierra Nevada, the statewide snowpack jumped from 18 to 37 percent of average – a big leap, but still a long ways from a healthy water year. But Swain says a series of storms over the next week could help bump those numbers up again, and most importantly, the precipitation is coming along with colder temperatures that will mean it’s likely to fall as snow above 4,000 feet of elevation.

Swain cautioned that a much-hoped-for “March miracle” (like the one that occurred in 1991) is more likely to be a “March mitigation.”

“At a minimum, it does appear that the Sierra Nevada will end March with a semi-respectable snowpack – even if it remains well below the historical average,” writes Swain.

Funding Sustainable Groundwater

In Sonoma County, three groundwater sustainability agencies have been formed in a process to comply with the state’s 2014 groundwater law. Now the region is tackling the next big problem: funding.

A series of community meetings are taking place this month for the Santa Rosa Plain, the Sonoma Valley and the Petaluma Valley – which each now have their own groundwater agency – to figure out how to fund groundwater sustainability efforts now required by the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.

The Press Democrat reports that each agency received $1 million in grant funding from the state, but more is needed.

“The agencies also have additional day-to-day costs and reserve goals intended to help finance major projects in the future,” the Press Democrat reports. “Those costs are estimated between $350,000 to $400,000 annually for each agency, according to Ann DuBay, a spokeswoman for the Sonoma County Water Agency. Funding options under consideration include charges on groundwater use or wells, as well as potential new levies by parcel or acreage, DuBay said.

California Conservation Slips

Less than a year after California’s governor declared the state’s five-year drought over, slipping water conservation numbers in parts of the state are already worrying.

During months of mandatory conservation, Californians got pretty good at saving water, with statewide reductions of more than 20 percent compared to pre-drought levels in 2013. But things have quickly swung the other way.

The Mercury News reports that water conservation statewide has fallen in seven of the last eight months. In January 2017, water use fell 20.7 percent compared to 2013. This January, that number was just 0.8 percent, meaning the state is basically right back where it started in water consumption not even a year after the drought has ended.

And there were big regional differences in water use. Bay Area water conservation efforts are keeping up, with San Francisco cutting water use 12 percent and San Jose nearly 10 percent. In Southern California where the weather this winter has been hotter and drier, Los Angeles actually used 15 percent more water than 2013 levels, and the South Coast region as a whole saw a jump of 3.8 percent more water use, according to the Mercury News.

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