The Department of Water Resources announced Friday a significant boost in the forecasted State Water Project deliveries this year due to continued winter storms in March and a massive Sierra snowpack.
The agency now expects to deliver 75% of requested water supplies, up from 35% announced in February. The increase translates to an additional 1.7 million acre-feet of water for the 29 public water agencies that serve 27 million Californians.
The announcement follows a near-record amount of rain for the Santa Clarita Valley and a series of 19 “atmospheric rivers,” which have dumped more than 31 inches of rain in an area that usually receives around 18 inches per year.
The wet-weather trend is expected to continue Tuesday and Wednesday as well, with about an inch of rain expected over that time, and a chance for lingering showers on Thursday, according to David Gomberg, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The local SCV Water Agency thanked its ratepayers for doing their part as the governor also formally announced the easing of restrictions that had been called for previously due to the drought.
“As Gov. (Gavin) Newsom lifts the 15% voluntary conservation goal, we want to thank our customers for rising to the challenge,” Kathie Martin, spokeswoman for SCV Water, wrote in a statement shared Friday via email. “From May 2022 through February 2023, during our Stage 2 declaration, customers reduced water use by about 15% — using nearly 3 billion gallons less compared to 2020.”
Martin also noted, as did state officials, that water managers in California also have to be mindful of “climate whiplash,” referring to the cycling from dry to drenched and back again.
“We are already working on provisions that will be needed to meet long-term conservation targets that were adopted in 2018,” she added.
Consistent storms in late February and March have built up the Sierra snowpack to more than double the amount seen this time of year statewide, according to a DWR release.
“Rainfall has also allowed for robust flows through the system, providing adequate water supply for the environment and endangered fish species while allowing the SWP to pump the maximum amount of water allowed under state and federal permits into reservoir storage south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta,” according to the release
The DWR also noted Friday that the state’s recent weather extremes, such as the years of drought and then the recent flooding many areas experienced, is prompting collaboration statewide among local agencies to “strengthen drought resilience and better prepare for future dry conditions,” according to a release.
“In accordance with Senate Bill 552 of 2021, DWR has released a suite of resources to assist counties in planning for future water shortage events,” according to the state water agency. “It has also launched a 26-member interagency drought task force that will help address drought planning and emergency response.”
April 1 is traditionally when California’s snowpack peaks and starts to melt. DWR is planning to host its April snow survey on Monday, April 3, at Phillips Station, weather conditions permitting.
DWR now expects San Luis Reservoir in Merced County to end the wet season at capacity. Lake Oroville, the State Water Project’s largest reservoir, is at 120% of average for this time of year and currently releasing water through the Oroville Spillway to reduce flood risk for downstream communities in anticipation of the spring snowmelt.
“California continues to experience weather whiplash, going from extreme drought to at least 19 atmospheric rivers since late December. It really demonstrates that in times of plenty, we need to move as much water into storage as is feasible,” DWR Director Karla Nemeth said in the agency’s release. “We’ve been able to manage the system to the benefit of communities, agriculture and the environment. It’s certainly been a welcome improvement following the three driest years on record for California.”