Will California’s drought become Colorado’s problem? — North Denver News #COdrought #ColoradoRiver

US Drought Monitor January 28, 2014
US Drought Monitor January 28, 2014

From the North Denver News:

A new report says California’s drought has had major impacts– at mid-winter, water storage in the state is at near decade low-levels. For Colorado, water watchers have been worried about the country’s largest state making new demands on the Colorado River.

Updates to satellite data show that California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins are at near decade-low water storage levels. These and other findings on the State’s dwindling water resources were documented in an advisory report released today from the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling (UCCHM) at the University of California, Irvine.

Responding to Governor Jerry Brown’s recent declaration of a drought emergency in California, a team of UCCHM researchers has updated its research on the state’s two largest river basins, and the source of most its water. The region also encompasses the Central Valley, the most productive agriculture region in the country. The Central Valley depends entirely on the surface and groundwater resources within the river basins to meet its irrigation needs and to produce food for the nation.

Using satellite data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission, the researchers, led by UCCHM Director and UC Irvine Professor Jay Famiglietti, found that as of November 2013, total water storage in the river basins — the combination of all of the snow, surface water, soil moisture and groundwater, and an integrated measure of basin-wide water availability — had declined to its lowest point in nearly a decade. GRACE data for the record- dry 2013-2014 winter months were not yet available for analysis.

The data show particularly steep water losses between November 2011 and November 2013, the early phase of the current drought. Famiglietti and fellow UCCHM researchers estimate that the basins have already lost 10 cubic kilometers of fresh water in each of the last two years — equivalent to virtually all of California’s urban and household water use each year. “That’s the steepest decline in total water storage that we’ve seen in California since the GRACE mission was launched in 2002,” Famiglietti said.

The researchers noted that snowpack, surface water and soil moisture storage in the river basins were all at their lowest points in nearly a decade, illustrating a growing threat to groundwater supplies in the Central Valley, and highlighting the urgent need to manage them sustainably. Groundwater is typically viewed as a strategic reserve that supplements sparse surface water supplies in times of drought.

By combining their satellite-based estimates of 10 years (October 2003 – November 2013) of Central Valley groundwater storage changes with long-term estimates of groundwater losses from the U. S. Geological Survey, the researchers noted that steep declines in groundwaterstorage are typical during droughts, when Central Valley farmers are forced to rely more heavily on groundwater to meet irrigation demands.

The advisory report underscores that the rates of declining groundwater storage during drought almost always outstrip rates of groundwater replenishment during wet periods, and raises fears about the impact of long-term groundwater depletion on sustaining a reliable water supply in the current, record-setting drought. The team’s previous 2011 study estimated that the Central Valley lost 20 cubic kilometers of groundwater during the 2006-2010 drought.

Historically, drought conditions and groundwater depletion in the Central Valley are responsible for widespread land subsidence, reductions in planted acreage, higher food costs and ecological damage.

Famiglietti notes that if the drought continues “Central Valley groundwater levels will fall to all- time lows.” Stephanie Castle, a UCCHM researcher who contributed to the report, believes that groundwater supplies should be more actively managed. Castle states that “the path of groundwater use that we are on threatens the sustainability of future water supplies for all Californians.” She noted that several communities within the state are on track to run out of water within the next few months.

From NOAA:

The most populated state in the country is facing what may be its worst drought in a century of record-keeping. On January 20, the governor of California declared a state of emergency, urging everyone to begin conserving water. Water levels in all but a few reservoirs in the state are less than 50% of capacity, mountains are nearly bare of snow except at the highest elevations, and the fire risk is extreme. In Nevada, the situation is much the same.

California has a climate like the Mediterranean region: hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. More than half of the annual precipitation arrives via winter storms between December and February. For the third winter in a row, precipitation has been below normal across the state. The last week of January is the midway point of the winter wet season, and accumulated precipitation since July is the lowest on record.

The current conditions are the product of several poor wet seasons in succession. The past 30 months—encompassing the past two winter wet seasons and the first half of the current one—are the driest since 1895 for comparable months.

On average, California will accumulate more than 53 inches of precipitation statewide over a typical 30-month span stretching from July to December, based on NOAA Climate Division Data. (Of course, there are huge differences from place to place based on elevation.) In the 30 months preceding December 2013, the state has received closer to 33 inches, just a bit less than the previous record low for a similar period, from July 1975-December 1977.

From the Boston Globe (Adam Nagourney):

The punishing drought that has swept much of the West is confronting authorities with the worst water shortage the region has faced in more than a century, with near-empty reservoirs, parched fields, starving livestock, clouds of smog, and outbreaks of wildfires.

With no sign of significant rain, 17 rural communities in California that provide water to 40,000 people are in danger of running out of water within 60 to 120 days.

California authorities announced Friday that they had no water left in the State Water Project, the main municipal water distribution system, to supplement the dwindling supplies of local agencies that serve 25 million people. It is the first time the project has turned off its spigot in its 54-year history.

“We are on track for having the worst drought in 500 years,” said B. Lynn Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California Berkeley…

The deteriorating situation is likely to mean imposition of mandatory water conservation measures for homeowners and businesses, who have already been asked to voluntarily reduce their water use by 20 percent.

The drought, technically in its third year, is forcing big shifts in behavior. Farmers in rural Nevada said they had even given up on planting, while ranchers in Northern California and New Mexico said they were being forced to sell off cattle as fields that should be 4 feet high in grass are blankets of brown and stunted stalks.

“I have experienced a really long career in this area, and my worry meter has never been this high,” said Tim Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, a statewide coalition. “We are talking historical drought conditions, no supplies of water in many parts of the state.

Here’s a release about drought planning in California via Reclmation:

With California in its worst drought in the state’s 160 years of record-keeping—and following Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s declaration of a Drought State of Emergency on January 17—the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce are working with the State of California to accelerate water transfers and exchanges, provide operational flexibility to store and convey water, expedite environmental review and compliance actions, and pursue new or fast-track existing projects that might help stretch California’s water supplies.

Federal and State officials met today to discuss a collaborative response to the drought to minimize its social, economic and environmental impacts. Led by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor and California Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin, administrators from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), National Integrated Drought Information System and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers joined in a demonstration of support for an “all-in” strategy on ongoing efforts to address drought conditions in California. The agencies are seeking maximum flexibility in carrying out water supply operations, investing in conservation measures and coordinating with the California State Water Resources Control Board to implement any new operational standards.

Today Reclamation and NRCS announced they are working together to leverage Federal funds for water delivery agencies and agricultural producers, and will provide up to $14 million in funding for water districts and associated growers to conserve water and improve water management. The projects funded through this partnership in Fiscal Year 2014 will help communities build resilience to drought, including by modernizing their water infrastructure and efficiently using scarce water resources, while continuing to support the agricultural economy.

“The drought situation is dire throughout the state, and communities, farms, ranches, businesses and the environment are feeling its effects,” stated Connor. “The federal and state governments can provide assistance in a variety of ways, and we are coordinating the federal response to bring resources and assistance to California through the National Drought Resilience Partnership.”

This funding opportunity builds upon an announcement yesterday from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that funding will be made available through the NRCS for agricultural water conservation efforts throughout California. Affected landowners have until March 3, 2014 to apply for $20 million in available funds.

“The Obama Administration and USDA are doing everything within our power to support those affected by this devastating drought,” said Vilsack. “These funds will support a suite of scientifically-proven conservation techniques that will help California farmers and ranchers maximize every available drop of water while conserving and protecting water resources for future generations.”

On January 27, California’s Natural Resources Agency, EPA and Department of Food and Agriculture released the California Water Action Plan, defining the state’s goals and vision through 2019 with a focus on sustaining water supplies for people, the environment, industry and agriculture. The Governor’s proposed 2014-2015 budget recommends $618.7 million in funding for water efficiency projects, wetland and watershed restoration, groundwater programs, conservation, flood control and integrated water management. Please visit http://resources.ca.gov/california_water_action_plan/ to view the plan.

Director Cowin stated, “The Department of Water Resources welcomes our ongoing, close partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation in managing water supplies for California. It will take our combined efforts to deal with the extraordinary drought conditions we now face. Alongside the Bureau, we plan to manage our limited available water supplies in a way that protects public health and safety, and preserves these supplies should dry conditions persist.”

As called for in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the National Drought Resilience Partnership will help coordinate the federal response to drought impacts and work closely with state, regional and local governments. The partnership includes the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Energy, and Commerce (NOAA), Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Environmental Protection Agency.

“The federal family recognizes how serious the drought is for California,” said NOAA Acting Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan. “NOAA and our partners are strengthening our real-time drought-related weather and water predictions for all the western states. As conditions on the ground in California change, we’re working to enable rapid adjustments in operations and water transfers in the Central Valley, while also looking to the future to plan for, and mitigate, on-going drought scenarios.”

In addition, today Reclamation released its 2014 Central Valley Project Water Plan, which was developed through a series of meetings that began in mid-2013 with water and power users, environmental interests, tribes, and state and federal agencies. The plan outlines numerous actions to help water users better manage their water supplies during drought conditions, such as expanding operational flexibility and streamlining the water transfer process. The plan is available at http://www.usbr.gov/mp/PA/water where visitors will also find a wide variety of current and historical information on CVP water operations, transfers, deliveries and contracts.

On Friday, January 31, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that, due to the severe drought conditions and with the consent of all settlement parties, it will begin reducing San Joaquin River Restoration Program’s Restoration Flows one month earlier than called for in the settlement, thereby making available about 13,000 acre-feet to the Friant Division long-term contractors with first priority to meet human health and safety needs.

Connor also noted that pumping operations at the federal Jones Pumping Plant, located in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta near Tracy, California, have been restricted by the lack of water due to drought conditions and State water quality permit requirements; they have not been curtailed by Endangered Species Act requirements for protection of imperiled fish species.

By continuing to work together and remaining focused on conditions, needs and relief measures, the managers of California’s state and federal water projects remain dedicated to making decisions during this critical time that are right for California’s people and communities, agriculture, businesses, imperiled species, power and the environment.

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