As temperatures soared to summer-like highs across the San Diego region on Thursday, the California Department of Water Resources’ final survey of the spring confirmed significantly below-average water content in the snowpack that provides about one-third of the water supplies for the San Diego County Water Authority. Runoff in the Colorado River Basin, the region’s other major imported water source, also is projected to be far below average for the second consecutive year despite April storms that boosted snow levels in the Rocky Mountains.
Dry times in the Southwest
Dry times underscore the value of water in the arid Southwest at the start of Water Awareness Month, a reminder each May of the critical role that water plays in the region’s economy, food production and environment. The Water Authority, which sits at the end of two major water delivery systems, has worked for more than two decades to bolster emergency storage capabilities, reduce reliance on imported water and improve its ability to move water around the region.
“Good planning and infrastructure investments are paying off, but the latest snowpack figures provide a stark reminder that we share a responsibility to live water-efficient lifestyles that help maintain our quality of life,” said Thomas V. Wornham, Chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors.
No mandatory water-use restrictions are expected this year in the Water Authority’s service area, partly because residents have embraced conservation measures and because major reservoirs filled to record levels two years ago.
On Thursday, the Department of Water Resources performed its fifth and final snow survey of the water year – an attempt to measure California’s “frozen reservoir” that melts through the summer and provides water for millions of homes and businesses statewide. The news was not good. Measurements showed that water content in the snowpack dropped from 48 percent of average on April 1 to only 17 percent of average on Thursday.
Storms in November and December kept conditions from being worse. Lake Oroville in Butte County – the State Water Project’s main storage reservoir – is 86 percent full, or 103 percent of average for this time of year. Still, the Department of Water Resources expects to meet just 35 percent of the requests for slightly more than 4 million acre-feet from State Water Project, the lowest allocation since 2008. An acre-foot is about 325,900 gallons, or enough to serve two four-person Southern California homes for a year.
To compensate, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California plans to take nearly 300,000 acre-feet of water from storage this year. MWD last withdrew water from storage to meet demand in 2009.
In San Diego County, precipitation since Oct. 1 has been between half and two-thirds of the region’s average. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows most of the Southwest – including Southern California – faces “moderate” to “exceptional” drought conditions, and fire officials are warning about elevated wildfire threats across the West.
One bright spot for San Diego County is the region’s conservation ethic, which increased dramatically during the drought of 2008 to 2011. Per-capita use fell by roughly 30 percent between 2007 and 2012, and today the vast majority of local residents view living a water-efficient lifestyle as a civic duty.
Water Awareness Month offers more opportunities to adopt water-efficient practices. Residents interested in switching to a water-efficient landscape can learn how through the Landscape Makeover Workshop Series, and they can apply for up to $3,000 in rebates through the WaterSmart Turf Replacement Program.
Homeowners looking for help figuring out how to save water also can use the Water Authority’s new residential Water Calculator. In addition, the Association of California Water Agencies this week launched “Sprinklers 101,” a web-based resource with information and tools about water-efficient residential irrigation for homeowners and landscape professionals. More than half of the water used at the typical San Diego County home is for landscape watering, creating significant opportunities for conservation.