Thursday, August 19, 2010

Major threats remain to California water supply

Greg Lucas in the California Independent Voter Network: Late spring storms, a heftier Sierra snowpack, and higher reservoir levels have largely made Californians believe the state’s record dry three-year drought is over. But, despite a year where, through May, rainfall is 107 percent of average – up from 76 percent of average in 2009 –dry conditions remain in parts of the state.

And, even with more rain, a variety of major threats still remain to the state’s water supply and its reliability. Among them: an aging levee system, continued groundwater overdrafting, declining ecosystems, and climate change. Solutions to these threats are complicated and one solid year of rain in four isn’t a major factor. In fact, as some observers have noted, a more abundant amount of water might lead to a “false sense of security” and reduce the urgency of addressing the state water system’s myriad needs.

Both the State Water Project and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project increased their water delivery levels in June – the state to 50 percent of demand and the bureau to 40 percent. After a third year of below average rainfall, each agency began 2010 delivering just 5 percent of requests for water, a record low for the state. At the beginning of the new water year, which runs from October 1 to September 30, key state reservoirs were at 69 percent of average.

An occasional hand-lettered sign from last year accusing Congress of creating a “dust bowl” still remains on fallow farmland along Interstate 5 in the agriculture-heavy Central Valley. Fifteen months ago, there were dozens of signs after the central valley project turned off the spigot to most of its customers. The state limited its deliveries to 15 percent of demand. The move helped fallow 500,000 acres of farmland. A University of California forecast at the time said doing so could cost as much as 80,000 jobs and over $2 billion in lost revenue.

More than 60 water agencies around the state imposed mandatory conservation requirements. Since then, reservoir storage has improved to 101 percent of average. Lake Shasta is at 95 percent of capacity. Don Pedro Reservoir near Yosemite is at 97 percent. However, some important reservoirs, like Lake Oroville are at 76 percent of capacity….

Oroville Dam at Lake Oroville, California, uploaded (maybe even shot) by Podruznik

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