Department of Water Resources: ‘From drought to deluge’ 

Water officials and weather experts talked about one of the wettest years in California history. Courtesy Zoom
Water officials and weather experts talked about one of the wettest years in California history. Courtesy Zoom

The California Department of Water Resources recapped a wild weather year Tuesday that brought a near-record amount of rainfall to the Santa Clarita Valley, with the Newhall Pass station recording 44.69 inches for a 12-month period that ended Saturday. 

Calling the theme of the recent water year, “weather whiplash,” noting the governor’s drought and flooding proclamations were actual simultaneous announcements, helped with some problems while posing new challenges with sudden changes.  

The upshot? 

“Californians’ investment in forecasting and emergency preparedness paid off during last season’s storm event,” said Margaret Mohr, deputy director of communications for the Department of Water Resources, “and the state is incorporating the lessons we learned during last year’s weather event …” 

She said those lessons included more “climate resiliency” for vulnerable communities most susceptible to extreme changes and making sure state reservoirs can have enough space to go from a yearslong drought to flooding conditions, as they did in the last water year. 

Mohr called the flood-to-drought scenario “the new normal” as climatologists and hydrologists both expect more “dramatic extremes of California’s climate” as the region enters its first El Niño winter in several years, which is characterized by warmer temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.  

But for all the challenges that flooding brought after a prolonged dry spell, there were a number of people who were all too happy to talk about the rain.  

The rains also allowed for the bureau to grant 100% allocations to local agencies, which includes the distribution of water for more than 3 million acres of farmland, for the first time since 2017. 

At the SCV Water Agency, General Manager Matt Stone announced in July that winter storms meant the agency was able to move away from operating under state-mandated restrictions. 

“Record rain and snowpack filling the state’s reservoirs, along with changes to statewide drought emergency compliance requirements,” Stone said, “have led us to move from Stage 2 to a ‘No Shortage Stage.’” 

While Michael Anderson, a climatologist with the Department of Water Resources, said the department can’t yet predict whether more rain than usual will come because of the El Niño weather system, they can say the state is in good condition.  

The rainfall means California starts the new water year with 217% of the annual average for its reservoirs, only the fourth time since 1950 the state has had more than 200%. 

“(The U.S. Bureau of) Reclamation is pleased to go into this new water year in a much better place than we’ve been for the last few years,” said Ernest Conant, the federal agency’s regional director, who was beaming over the Zoom. “That includes both our reservoirs and our groundwater basins that were able to be replenished nicely with excess flows from the winter storms.” 

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