California Drought Ends, But Controlling Santa Monica Refuses to End Restrictions
Sierra Nevada snow drifts at a drought-busting 173 percent of average, with the most snow recorded since 1995
February 10, 2017
Sierra Nevada snow drifts are at a drought-busting 173 percent of average, with the most snow recorded since 1995, California water managers said Thursday.
State water managers poked rods into drifts as high as tree branches to measure the snowpack. They found far more snow than at the height of California's more than five-year drought, when the measurement was done in almost-bare mountain meadows.
"The winter storms across California are a welcome relief from five years of record low rainfall for Los Angeles, but Santa Monica's groundwater, our major supply of water, has been impacted and can take years to rebound. Due to the long-term effects of drought, the City of Santa Monica will maintain its current drought restrictions including water use allowances and penalties for exceeding allowances. The City will continue providing its most sought-after conservation programs: rebates covering landscaping and toilets and water use consultations," said the City in a press release this week.
"Though Santa Monica is meeting its local water conservation goal of 20% below 2013 usage levels, it must continue to meet this target for long-term resiliency and water self-sufficiency. Continuing conservation efforts will allow us to get to water self-sufficiency, ending the need to rely on imported water to meet the demands of the community," the press release continued.
"It gives everything a much brighter outlook," said Frank Gehrke, the state Department of Water Resources who conducted the manual snow measurements. The overall snowpack is vital to the state, providing a third of water supplies year-round.
This year's bountiful snowpack came thanks to one of the stormiest Januarys in decades. The storms brought three-fourths of the state's normal yearly precipitation in just a few weeks.
Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to wait until the end of the rainy season, in April, to decide whether to lift a drought-emergency in place since 2014. The City of Santa Monica has already said it will not lift its drought restrictions.
In January, back-to-back-to-back storms from the tropics that each dropped a hurricane's worth of water on the state put the state at 108 percent of its normal rain and snow for the year, with two months still left in the rainy season, said Michael Dettinger, a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey.
California had received just one-fourth of a normal year's precipitation when January started, he said. The storm systems, known as atmospheric rivers, "caught us all off guard, how many came in so quickly, and turned everything around," Dettinger said.
January's storms lifted the northern half of the state out of drought. This time last year, 95 percent of California was in drought, after the driest three-year stretch in the state's recorded history.
In April of 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown stood in a Sierra meadow bare of its usual snow to declare a drought emergency in California, and ordered mandatory water conservation in cities and towns.
State water officials, who lifted the statewide conservation mandate as the drought eased, say Brown's administration likely will wait for a final seasonal snow survey in April before deciding whether to officially end the state drought emergency.
"Santa Monicans and our local businesses are doing an amazing job making water conservation a part of everyday life," said Susan Cline, Public Works Director. "Over the last two years, our water customers cut use and for 82 days we were able to meet all of our water needs just using local groundwater supplies. This level of conscientiousness is applauded and continued efforts will ensure that together we can manage our water sources responsibly for an uncertain future."
"Currently, 74% of water customers are using less than their water use allowance each month. This is down from a high of 80% compliance in February 2016. More than 600 customers have received penalties and from that group, the majority opted for an in-person water use consultation and the fee was waived. The City has given out more than 15,000 water-saving products and rebates since the drought response started in 2015," continued the City press release.