- Wettest California winter in years offers chance to show how important new storage is to the state.
California’s state song should be “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with the winter we’ve been having.
It was the wettest December ever for Bakersfield, Calif. The Kern County city received almost half its annual rainfall total for the year in one month.
Fresno’s December rainfall total was the second wettest on record.
It was the same story statewide.
The early Sierra Nevada snowpack logged in at 200 percent or more of normal in all locations. Storm snowfall totals from a series of storms have been recorded in feet, not inches; up to 13 feet in mountain ski areas from a single storm.
Farmers had already been told they would get 50 percent of their annual state water allocation before a series of wet “Pineapple Express” storms roared through the state. Last year at this time, the state and federal projects guaranteed 5 percent.
What a difference a year makes.
California has been water short for at least a decade. An $11 billion water bond issue was hastily cobbled together for a November 2010 ballot initiative. It did not happen. California is broke; business and taxpayers are leaving the state in droves and the state debt flounders between $15 billion and $25 billion annually. No way California voters were going to pass a bond issue in 2010, so it was postponed until the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot.
If it does come up again then, California likely will have experienced one of the wettest 12 months in history. I can hear it now; “What drought? California doesn’t need water.”
Politically and financially the 2012 water bond vote will be a tough sell, especially if it remains the same package as was scheduled for the November 2010 ballot. Lots of pork in this $11 billion pot with a debt service of $600 to $800 million per year for the broke state. Plus, farm leaders say there are no guarantees in the 2010 package that new surface storage would be built with the money. Look for a re-packaging of the parcel.
This winter could actually help pass the November referendum, if agriculture and the cities remind Californians of what is being lost during one of the wettest years in a long time. The majority of the snowpack and the rain that fell in December will be lost because of a lack of storage. Even before the first storm hit the state, water managers were releasing 2010 water from storage facilities after a relatively wet spring.
Unless it is the slowest snowmelt on record, there will be flooding downstream on California's dammed rivers. There is too much water in the mountains for an orderly catch and release year.
Leaders need to be realistic in the assessment of the “water loss” this year. The 2010-2011 water year, I suspect, will have a very positive environmental impact on the Delta and other fisheries.
Let’s remind people that if the state would have had the ability to catch just half of this year’s water runoff, it would carry the state through many dry years ahead.