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I have good news and bad news…

California Aqueduct

… and I’ll give you the BAD news first.

January and February in the Northern Sierra Nevada were the DRIEST since modern records were established in 1920, and California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack has dropped to 66% of normal. Officials made the announcement today. The snowpack, which is key to the water supply in California during the summer, was at 93% of normal a month ago and at 140% of normal on January 1. Since the new year, however, a high-pressure ridge has BLOCKED storms from reaching California.

Water officials and Central Valley farmers are starting to freak out.

“What is the GOOD news?” you ask. :-)

Heavier-than normal rain and snowfall in November and December of 2012 have kept MANY of California’s major reservoirs at, or above, normal levels! The Santa Cruz Sentinel says:

“It’s clearly not what we’d hoped for. But it’s not as dire as it could be,” said Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program with the state Department of Water Resources.

On Thursday, Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California, was 79 percent full — 107 percent of normal for this date.

Because of such storage, along with healthy water supplies in their own reservoirs and underground aquifers, no Bay Area water districts are predicting summer cutbacks or water rationing.

“From a water supply perspective, we’re not in a drought,” Gehrke said. “Clearly, the concern is that you can handle one or two dry years, but when they stack up, that’s a problem.”

In San Francisco, January and February were the third driest since 1850. In San Jose, January and February were the driest since records were first kept, in 1874.

Boosted by soaking storms at the end of 2012, San Jose as of Thursday had 8 inches of rain since the rainfall year began last July 1, which is 71 percent of normal for this date. Oakland has had 11.8 inches, or 77 percent of normal. And Livermore has had 9.41 inches, or 80 percent of normal.

More sunny skies are forecast through the weekend. After that, there’s a 30 to 50 percent chance of rain in the Bay Area early next week, probably on Tuesday and Wednesday.

(As I srite this blog, The Santa Cruz Sentinel updated the page with cool new graphics about reservoir capacity! :-) )

What happened to the precipitation, and are things likely to change, soon?

Customers in the Peninsula and San Francisco who receive Hetch Hetchy water are in good shape because Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park is 70 percent full, and Crystal Springs Reservoir, near Interstate 280, is 94 percent full.

In Santa Clara County, no summer water cutbacks are expected, said Marty Grimes, a spokesman for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. That’s due largely to the fact that the vast underground aquifers where the district stores water are above normal levels. They are on pace to hold about 326,000 acre feet by the end of 2013 — an amount equal to all the water used by the county’s 1.8 million people in a year.

Meanwhile, the district has another year’s supply — 308,000 acre-feet — stored underground near Bakersfield at the Semitropic Water Storage District.

In the East Bay, the story is similar.

“We’re looking OK,” said Jennifer Allen, a spokeswoman for the Contra Costa Water District. “We’re comfortable we’re going to be able to meet our customer demand.”

Part of the reason is that Contra Costa has more storage this year. Last summer, construction crews finished adding 34 feet to the height to Los Vaqueros Dam, a $120 million project that increased the reservoir capacity by 60 percent.

No summer cutbacks are expected at the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which serves 1.3 million customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The district’s main storage area, Pardee Reservoir in Calaveras County, was 84 percent full on Thursday.

The strategy for water management has really paid off this year, with officials keeping water in reservoirs rather than letting it out to prepare for future storms.

Let’s hope for rain and keep our fingers crossed!

-Bill at

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