Sunday, January 24, 2010

Despite downpour, drought persists in San Francisco

Peter Fimrite in the San Francisco Chronicle: Ot might seem odd to talk about a drought after a weeklong series of thundering storms drenched the Bay Area and heaped snow on the Sierra, but California's water lords know the state's lingering thirst cannot be quenched by one showy display of wet weather.

The recent downpours have temporarily brought the state back from the dusty brink, but officials with the California Department of Water Resources claim much more rain and snow will have to fall if the Golden State is going to pull out of its drought. "It took three years to get this dry," said David Rizzardo, chief of the department's snow surveys section. "Barring an extraordinary year, it's going to take more than one year to get out of it."

The next two months will tell the tale, according to Rizzardo. The state could emerge from drought if the storms caused by that tempestuous weather maker known as El NiƱo keep coming, he said. But they would have to be particularly ferocious.

…Although rainfall is now above normal in the Bay Area, Lake Oroville, the State Water Project's primary source of drinking water, is only 31 percent of capacity. That's about 48 percent of average for this date.

Reservoirs statewide, including Hetch Hetchy, appear to be doing relatively well, hovering around 72 percent of average. But most of them are tiny compared with Lake Oroville, which has a capacity of 3.5 million acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons, enough to cover an acre in a foot of water. Hetch Hetchy holds 360,400 acre-feet of water….

Lake Oroville shot from space, NASA

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