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March 2013
Subscribe to Your Water – Metropolitan’s E–Newsletter.

Record Dry Conditions Impact Water Supply

Colorado River Aqueduct

What started as a promising water year in California has turned dry—very dry.

The high supply potential suggested in November and December, when precipitation was about 200 percent of average in the Northern Sierra, never materialized.  In fact, California ended February on a low water supply note, with the state setting a new record for the driest January-February period in recorded history, dating back 90 years.

The Northern Sierra snowpack index, used by the state Department of Water Resources to calculate runoff and allocate water delivered through the State Water Project, registered only 2.2 inches of precipitation during the first two months of 2013.  The average for the period is 17.1 inches.

With no significant storms on the horizon at the beginning of March, snowpack in the Northern Sierra stands at about 60 to 70 percent of normal for this time of year.  While the State Water Project allocation remains at 40 percent for now, continuing dry conditions could compel DWR to lower that amount. 

Delta Smelt, Photo courtesy of DWR.

Complicating the state water picture, pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has been restricted the past two months to help protect the threatened Delta smelt.  About 30 percent of Southern California’s total yearly water supplies move across the Delta to state-operated pumps and aqueduct.

At the same time, conditions are equally worrisome along the Colorado River, which is in the midst of a 12-year drought.  Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin watershed is 78 percent of average, with runoff conditions expected to yield less water because of the dry conditions.  Storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead—the river system’s two main reservoirs—is at 49 percent and 53 percent of average, respectively.

Despite the below average supply conditions in Northern California and Colorado River watersheds, Metropolitan Water District remains ready to meet Southern California’s imported water demands because of the significant investments in storage and infrastructure the agency has made over the last two decades.

Metropolitan has 2.7 million acre-feet of water stored in reservoirs, local groundwater basins and in banking programs in Lake Mead and the Central Valley, and an additional 700,000 acre-feet in emergency reserves.  That’s double the district’s reserves in 2009 and 13 times more than Metropolitan’s total storage capacity in 1980.  (An acre-foot of water is nearly 326,000 gallons, about the amount used by two typical Southland families in and around their homes in a year.) 

The primary driver of the storage gains are Metropolitan’s investments in Diamond Valley Lake and the Inland Feeder.  Those facilities have helped the district capitalize on available supplies and build up reserves that help support the region’s $1 trillion economy.

Diamond Valley Lake Reservoir

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