Notes from the Water Side Special water supply update -- WINTER HAS BEEN CANCELLED (Jan. 22, 2015) 1/22/2015 4:42:25 PM SPECIAL WATER SUPPLY UPDATE – January 22, 2015

We interrupt your morning perusal of the Water News clippings to bring you this exclusive report:  the remainder of California’s 2015 winter season has been cancelled. Sources close to Mother Nature, speaking on condition of anonymity, report the grand lady suffered a rotator cuff injury delivering those hopeful December Deluges, and subsequently has been unable to throw anything but soft pitch. Rather than risk further injury, MN has decided to hang it up for the remainder of the season and try again next year. There you have it.

The implications to Californians and California water agencies are myriad.  If you are one of the few Californians who own an umbrella, put it away. If you were planning a ski trip in the Sierra Nevada, fly to Colorado. If you were hoping to keep your remaining lawn green through the summer, buy lawn dye. And if you were hoping the State Water Resources Control Board would stay out of your business and let you manage your own water supplies, well, sorry about that.


We have reached the half-way point by volume of the Sierra Nevada snow accumulation season. On average, the Sierra snowpack peaks on April 1 (Runoff New Year’s Day!), and by now we should have accumulated 50 percent of the April 1 average snowpack.  What do we have instead? 15 percent, or 30 percent of the average to date. To give you a taste of how bad January has been, consider the Mammoth Mountain snow report page, which includes a list of daily snow accumulation for the month, usually a source of pride for one of the snowiest spots in the state.  Here is the box as of this morning:

Mammoth Mountain Snow History for January

This Month


Jan, 10


Jan. 11




AND THAT’S NOT EVEN WATER CONTENT, that’s just snowfall, likely sublimated away the same day it fell. Pathetic. No upper gondola yo-yo powder shots down Climax this month. Oh well.


Where do we go from here you ask?  Here are three possibilities:

  • Atmospheric Rivers to the Rescue!:  In this wildly optimistic scenario, winter makes a major reprise and brings us to 100 percent or more of a normal season’s snowpack, partially filling the state’s drought-depleted storage reservoirs and lessening, though not entirely eliminating, our drought water use restrictions. Betting book: 5-1.
  • Meh: We get average precipitation in February and March, bringing us to about 60 percent of an average season snowpack. State Water Project deliveries increase somewhat compared to last year, we draw down storage reserves a bit more but not as much as we did last year, and most of the state struggles by with approximately the same level of pain as last year.  Unless . . . the State Board decides we need stronger medicine for our own good, but let’s see what happens.  Betting book: 3-2.
  • Ridiculously Resilient Ridge Resplendent:  The notorious northeastern Pacific high pressure blocking ridge, the Triple R, sets up in force, pushing the storm track well to the North of the Golden state, and winter really is cancelled. The result: mandatory water use restrictions, budget challenges due to reduced water sales, Water Supply Assessments become challenging without offsets, and lawn dye sales increase. Have you checked your long-term water demand forecast lately?  Betting book:  2-1.

Ah, exciting times in the water business as always.  Have fun out there, and if you need expert help planning, documenting, or managing your water supplies, please give me a call.

-- Doug


Happy New Year (Runoff Year 2013-14) (Originally posted April 1, 2013) 7/12/2014 8:04:55 PM April 1, 2013

Yes, yes, I know, it’s April 1 and the news is mostly about the problem of exploding maple trees (not enough people tapping the trees for syrup these days) and such things, but . . . this is serious:   happy new year to you and yours.

Yes, it’s new year’s day. You see in the water business, April 1 marks the start of a new runoff year.  This is the date when on average the great mountain snowpacks of the western United States, those of the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains among them, reach their seasonal peaks, and when all that water stored in the snowpack starts to melt and fill the streams . . . . which fill the reservoirs which fill the aqueducts which fill the distribution pipelines which feed water to your tap.  This is the date when the runoff forecasters collect their final snowpack measurements with which to make their projections of water supply availability for the coming runoff year.  Happy new year.

So how does the runoff forecast look for the new year?  No, no, not so fast. First, a bit of past is prologue, in two easy parts: 

1)  Remember the mandatory water use restrictions of a few years ago?  We had drought and court-ordered pumping restrictions on the State Water Project, and persistent drought on the Colorado River, and not water available to serve normal demands. But the winter of 2010-11 brought abundant precipitation, California’s reservoirs all filled, water use restrictions were lifted, and people danced in the streets in celebration. [Editor’s note: it is April 1 and some embellishment by the reporter is to be tolerated].  

2)  Then came the disappointingly dry winter of 2011-2012, but did you notice?  NO, you didn’t notice because the reservoirs were all full from the previous winter, urban water demands across the state were low due to conservation persistence and the depressed economy, and our robust water supply system served customer demands without any extraordinary limitations. The partying in the streets continued . . .

Which brings us to the just completed winter of 2012-13.  Oh what promise of youth gone astray!  By the end of December the Sierra Nevada snowpack was 150% to 200% of normal for the date, the water system operators were happy, the fish were happy, the farmers and ranchers were friends . . . you get the idea. But then Tialoc  directed his benevolences elsewhere, and for most of the Sierra January through March was among the driest such period on record.  It isn’t pretty.  Here are the numbers:  


  • Storage reserves in the state are still strong and available to supplement the low runoff, so we will probably make it through the year OK.  But the water managers will be nervous, because one more year of dry conditions and next year we’ll be back to 2009’s and 2010’s mandatory water use restrictions.
  • Water agencies will continue to be able to provide affirmative Water Supply Assessments, with defensible findings grounded on their still fresh 2011 (nominal 2010) Urban Water Management Plans, and where necessary on Metropolitan’s planning buffer (if you are in the Met service area) and the Water Authority’s  Accelerated Forecast Reserve (for those of you in the San Diego area).  BUT . . . this won’t last if the coming year is again dry.
  • Lake Powell levels will fall, which is bad for those of you that want to go houseboating, and good for those of you that want to explore the lower Escalante Canyons on foot.  Lake Mead levels will fall and the managers of the Southern Nevada Water Authority will get nervous and send out news releases lamenting the injustice of their plight.

In summary, it will be another year of excellent adventure in the water business.  If you need expert help planning, documenting, or managing your water supplies, please give me a call.

-- Doug