Wednesday, 08 February 2023

As water needs grow, state, county officials plan for future

LAKE COUNTY – The results of the state's fifth and final snow measurement of the season have led state officials to call for redoubling water conservation efforts, and devoting more energy to water storage plans.


Here in Lake County, plans also are under way to begin planning for future water projects.


The Department of Water Resources' snow measurement, held Tuesday, showed the state's snowpack average at 29 percent of normal, a number that by Friday had dropped to 27 percent.


Those are the lowest snowpack levels since 1988, officials reported.


The snowpack measurements help hydrologists forecast water supplies for the year, the Department of Water Resources reported.


It's been a sparse year for snowpack overall, with Mendocino National Forest officials last month reporting the driest April reading since measurements began in 1944.


California has enjoyed several years of strong rainfall and snowpacks, which means that the state isn't yet in a crisis, said Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow. As well, in the last 20 years the state has put increasing emphasis on building water storage infrastructure, including reservoirs and conveyance.


However, Snow said climate change is leading to more drastic conditions, a pattern which he said has developed over the last 40 years.


The Department of Water Resources has estimated that the state's snowpack will decrease by 40 percent by the year 2050 due to climate change, a prediction that appears backed up by recent conditions.


Planning has become critical in offsetting serious drought events, said Snow.


"There is no question that these snowpack results indicate the need for conservation and more water storage," Snow said in a statement, which also called for support for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Strategic Growth Plan. That plan includes increased surface and groundwater storage and Delta preservation in light of the state's growing population.


Snow said the Department of Water Resources is working with local and regional agencies throughout the state to encourage and implement water conservation measures as a precaution against subsequent dry years.


The agency reported that some communities have begun voluntary rationing. Those include the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which called on their 2.4 million customers to reduce their water use by 10 percent or they could face water rationing this summer.


In addition, the East Bay Municipal Utilities District has asked their customers find and fix any plumbing that leaks, to water their laws only three days a week and never on consecutive days and to do so at night or in the morning, the Department of Water Resources reported.

 

“This is a reminder that climate change isn't going to happen for our children, it's happening now,” Snow said of this year's drier conditions.

 

Pam Francis, deputy director of the county's Water Resources Division, agrees. “We need to come to grips with that,” she said.


The county, Francis said, has met with the Department of Water Resources because they're concerned about water conditions.


She said Lake County is fortunate because it isn't tied closely to snowpack conditions. And while rain levels have been lower this year, recent groundwater monitoring has shown local wells are within average range, and the lake itself is about average, she added.


“I wouldn't say that we have any serious concerns locally,” Francis said.


The trends, however, suggest that the area is in the beginning stage of a dry period, she said.


While most people only think of conservation during crisis periods, Francis emphasized that conservation “is always a good thing for any resource.”


Locally, Francis said plans are under way to begin planning for the county's water future.


On May 16, the county will host its first integrated regional water management planning meeting for county stakeholders.


The group's goal, said Francis, is to work together to formulate a regional water management plan, which looks at water from both the supply and demand sides.


Several water bond measures were approved by voters last fall, but to receive those funds, said Francis, the county must have an integrated regional water management plan.


The meeting will be a step toward applying for a grant to aid the county in the planning process. “We expect to do that next summer,” said Francis. “That's our goal.”


The plan will include a list of local water projects, said Francis, which must meet certain criteria.


“Multiple beneficial uses are key to any project,” said Francis. Those multiple uses include groundwater recharge, increasing storage capacity, improving water quality and flood control.


Some of the projects Francis expects to see included in the management plan include the Middle Creek Restoration Project, which would restore 1,200 acres of wetlands and 500 acres of floodplain around the lake; the Full Circle Project, which seeks to transport the county's wastewater to The Geysers for injection; and the Lakeport Dam, which, among other things, would help recharge Scotts Valley's groundwater.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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