Rain in California will not be enough to alleviate severe drought



A pedestrian carries an umbrella as he crosses a street in Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco on Wednesday, October 20, 2021. Downpours swept through the drought and fire-stricken landscape of northern California on Wednesday, driven by a series of Increasingly heavy storms that are expected to bring significant rain and snow next week, forecasters said. (AP Photo / Jeff Chiu)


Moderate to heavy rains fell in northern California on Friday, ahead of a weekend that is expected to bring increasingly stormy weather to the drought-stricken state, while raising concerns over flash flooding in large areas burned by forest fires.

A flood warning has been issued in part of Siskiyou County on the Oregon border, where “local law enforcement has reported debris flows and pavement flooding due to runoff excessive, ”according to the National Weather Service office in Medford, Oregon.

Californians rejoiced this week when large drops of water began to fall from the sky for the first measurable time since spring, an annual soak that heralds the start of the rainy season after some of the hottest months. and the driest ever.

But as the rain began to fall on Tuesday night, Gov. Gavin Newsom did a curious thing: he issued a statewide drought emergency and authorized regulators to pass mandatory water restrictions at statewide if they wish.

Newsom’s order may seem shocking, especially as forecasters predict that up to 18 centimeters of rain could fall over parts of the northern California mountains and Central Valley this week. But experts say it makes sense to view drought as something not caused by the weather, but by climate change.

For decades, California has relied on rain and snow in winter to fill the state’s major rivers and streams in the spring, which then feed into a vast system of lakes that store water for consumption, agriculture. and energy production. But this annual mountain runoff is decreasing, mainly because it is hotter and drier, not just because it rains less.

California’s spring snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains was 60% of its historical average. But the amount of water that reached the reservoirs was similar to 2015, when the snowpack was only 5% of its historical average. Almost every water state official expected this year to be evaporated into warmer air or absorbed into drier soil – a dynamic unfolding in the arid western United States.

“You don’t get into the type of drought we’re seeing right now in the American West just because of… a few missed storms,” said Justin Mankin, geography professor at Dartmouth College and co-head of the Drought Task Force. at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “A warm atmosphere evaporates more water from the soil surface (and) reduces (the) amount of water available for other uses, such as people, hydropower, and growing crops.”

Increasingly strong storms are expected to spread across California until early next week.

“On Saturday night, a rapidly intensifying Pacific cyclone that directs a powerful atmospheric river directly onto the West Coast sends a fire hose of rich subtropical humidity to California,” the National Weather Service said. “Snow levels will be low enough to cover the Sierra Nevada in heavy snowfall on Sunday as prolonged periods of rain drench the coast and valleys of northern and central California.

Precipitation will then spread across southern California on Monday.

The rain has helped contain some of the country’s biggest wildfires this year, including a blaze that threatened the Lake Tahoe resort area this summer. Officials said Wednesday evening that the blaze was now 100% under control after storms blanketed the west side of the blaze with snow, while rain fell on the east side.

The state is expecting so much snow that the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area near Yosemite National Park announced its opening for the season two weeks earlier on October 29. .

California’s “year of water” runs from October 1 to September 30. The water year 2021, which has just ended, was the second driest on record. The one before was the fifth driest on record. Some of the state’s largest reservoirs are at record levels. Things are going so badly in Lake Mendocino that state officials say it could be dry by next summer.

Even if California were to have above average rain and snow this winter, warming temperatures mean it probably won’t be enough to make up for all the water lost in California. Last year, California experienced its hottest monthly average temperatures on record across the state in June, July, and October 2020.

Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager for the California Department of Water Resources, said people shouldn’t think of drought “as just that occasional thing that sometimes happens and then we go back to a wetter system.” .

“We’re really moving to a drier system, so, you know, drought is becoming the new normal,” she said. “Drought is not a short-term feature. Droughts take a long time to develop, and they usually persist for some time.”

Water regulators have already ordered some farmers and other heavy users to stop withdrawing water from the state’s major rivers and streams. Mandatory water restrictions for ordinary people could be next.

In July, Newsom asked people to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15%. In July and August, people cut 3.5%. Newsom issued an executive order on Tuesday allowing state regulators to impose mandatory restrictions, including banning people from washing their cars, using water to clean sidewalks and driveways, and refilling decorative fountains.

State officials have warned water agencies that they may not be getting water from state reservoirs this year, at least initially. It will be very difficult, said Dave Eggerton, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.

But he said he believes Californians will soon start saving more water with the help of a statewide conservation campaign, which will include messages on electronic signs along highways. very busy.

“It’s going to happen,” he said. “People are starting to get the message and they want to do their part. “

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