Friday, February 3, 2017

NWS official: 'There's really no place to put all this water!'


You've heard of bulletin-board fodder in sports, right? A player makes some sort of bold statement and the other team puts it on its bulletin board for motivation. Well, National Weather Service warning coordinator Michelle Mead just gave a hanging curveball to proponents of Sites Reservoir and other storage projects in California when she said in her latest dispatch to people on her email list, "there's really no place to put all this water!"

Actually, the statement was in one of her graphics on January precipitation levels (the third one down), but she expanded on the thought later in her narrative by saying there isn't enough storage to capture all the rain and snow that's been following. You see, water has to be released from reservoirs to make room for the rain and snow melt that will come later, and there's nowhere for it to go except out to sea.

That point echoes what farm groups have been saying for years, and reiterated this week on the eve of the state Department of Water Resources' second manual snow survey of the season, which happened Thursday. I could just see a banner in the Sites Authority office with the quote, "There's really no place to put all this water!"

Here's Michelle's full report, in which she offers some perspective on the drought and the wet winter's impact.
You may have noticed with all the rain we saw in January, there have been a lot of changes to the CA Drought Monitor (DM) map, this weeks is no excpetion. As a result, there are also many news reports that the drought is over in California. However, the DM map does not designate CA drought status, only the Governor's office declares drought on or off for the State. Remember Big D vs little d. The Big D is the one that comes from the State, while the little d is a result of meteorological/hydrologic/water supply numbers. The State is still responding to requests for assistance related to impacts arising from the drought. These impacts stem from a variety of conditions and local water management capabilities that are not necessarily alleviated from the extreme events of the past month. These impacts drive the condition of the Big D which is not reflected on the US Drought Monitor Map.

While we don't want to discount the vast improvements to rivers, reservoirs and soil moisture (meteorologic/hydrologic) across the state from the January rains, which are very impressive. We need to put it into perspective.


We saw record rainfall and snow amounts across northern California in the month of January. Below is the Sierra Nevada 8,5 and 6 station indexes monthly bar graphs. You can see that all of these locations received between 3-4 times their monthly average for January. While these precipitation values have definitely put a big dent into our 5-6 year precipitation deficit, see bucket graphic above, it's the problem of too much too fast!


The snow that arrived with the storms has also been impressive. The states snow water equivalent totals have transitioned from the below average numbers at the beginning of January, to well above average to date 173%, to near average for April 1 at 109%. However, there is a lot of time before April 1 for this value to decrease with warm, dry weather, or increase with additional storms. Time will tell.


The state is utilizing the flood control/surface water management systems to it's capacity to move water for public safety and future supply. However, there still isn't enough storage capacity to hold on to all this water for future supply needs. Groundwater condition improvements remain unknown until the groundwater measurements come in later this Spring. This is a key element of water supply drought recovery that remains unknown at this time.


We're still at the halfway point of our wet season, so there's no guarantee that above average precipitation will continue. As a reminder we all need to hope for the best, but plan for the worst.
I've been a fan of Michelle's work at the NWS' Sacramento office and have often used her as a source. But I have to chuckle a little at her "big D/little d" drought comments above, as if government decrees and definitions take precedence over the hydrologic reality on the ground. I get the point that she's making, and I know there are specific things that are triggered in a formal drought declaration. But I hope Jerry Brown doesn't suddenly decree that it's hot and sunny in Redding. I'd hate to have to go sit out by our pool this morning and try to get a tan.

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