(CN) — What a difference an (extremely wet) year makes.
With a massive snowpack still blanketing the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and major reservoirs already at or near capacity, California announced Thursday it will deliver full allocations to 29 public agencies who are part of the State Water Project.
“California is taking action to maximize the capture and storage of water from recent storms and snowpack,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “California is moving and storing as much water as possible to meet the state’s needs, reduce the risk of flooding, and protecting our communities, agriculture and the environment.”
Statewide, reservoir storage stands at 105% of average for this date. The State Water Project is a water storage and delivery system that extends about two-thirds the length of California — more than 750 miles — made up of canals, pipelines, reservoirs and hydroelectric power facilities. It is considered an engineering marvel, and it has allowed the state to grow its population to 40 million people, tops in the nation.
“Today’s announcement is very significant considering we have not received a 100% allocation from Department of Water Resources since 2006. It’s a positive sign for the state’s water supply. Even still, we need to be water-wise,” said Alameda County Water District General Manager Ed Stevenson.
It’s been quite a turnaround. Officials announced in December 2022 that public water agencies would receive only 5% of the water requested due to the ongoing drought. This was the initial allocation based upon the conditions at the time.
Then Mother Nature unleashed her fury. More than 30 atmospheric river systems slammed into the state, producing enormous amounts of rainfall in the lowlands and snow in the Sierra.
Ski resorts Palisades Tahoe and Kirkwood, located a half-hour drive from South Lake Tahoe, broke snowfall records, with 710 inches and 708 inches, respectively. Mammoth Mountain, southeast of Yosemite, bested both with a record 885 inches. California gets about one-third of its water from snowmelt.
While the winter and spring seasons brought records, the inevitable is lurking. If it gets too warm too fast, flooding from the enormous snowpack becomes a concern for water managers.
“We’ve got to keep our eyes out on the horizon for sunny heat waves that are going to lead to snowmelt concerns,” said Ben Hatchett of the Desert Research Institute at a news conference in late March.
On top of the 100% allocation, California is sending an additional 5% to some regions for groundwater recharge. Since March 22, the state has delivered 228,000 acre-feet of water to local water agencies for recharge and an additional 37,000 acre-feet is planned for next week, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
State officials have been busy. Newsom signed an executive order to help with the Tulare Lake Basin flood south of Fresno while increasing efforts to capture more water statewide. Some of the projects involve modernizing aging water conveyance systems and streamlining the permitting process.
The state has already bolstered supply and storage through groundwater recharge and other projects including a combined 1.1 million acre-feet of water, enough for 2.2 million households’ yearly usage, according to the governor’s office.
In the future, California has a roadmap that includes 142 actions to improve water resilience and bolster water supplies while adding 4 million acre-feet of water storage capacity, according to a statement.
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