Drought worsens for Nevada County | TheUnion.com

Drought worsens for Nevada County

Matthew Renda
Staff Writer

The Washington Ridge Youth Camp and residences on wells in the immediate vicinity are in danger of having their wells run dry within the next 60 to 100 days, according to the California Department of Public Health.

Though rain finally fell on the region this week, a prolonged period of well-above-normal precipitation patterns would have to hold sway for the region to overcome the extreme drought-like conditions that are steadily worsening.

The area of Nevada County off Highway 20, northeast of Nevada City, was listed as one of 17 rural areas throughout California by the state public health department as subject to vulnerable drinking water systems.

"As the severe drought continues, we're working with impacted communities to identify alternative water sources and additional resources," CDPH Director Ron Chapman said.

The California Department of Water Resources measured the snowpack on Thursday amid a moderate storm system laden with snow and still only found the snowpack at 12 percent of average, the worst ever reading since records began being kept in 1960.

"This winter remains dry, making it very unlikely our record drought will be broken this year," said DWR Director Mark Cowin. "Now more than ever, we all need to save every drop we can in our homes and places of work."

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Prior to Thursday, the lowest snowpack water content readings for this time of year were 21 percent of average for the date in 1991 and 1963, 22 percent in 1976, 25 percent in 1977 and 35 percent in 2012 — which represents the first year of the present drought, which has persisted for three consecutive years.

State Climatologist Michael Anderson noted that statewide, only 1.53 inches of rain was recorded from October through December, also the lowest aggregate total in records going back to 1895. The aggregate average for the period is 7.87 inches. California's average aggregate rainfall for the entire Water Year (Oct. 1-Sept. 30) is 22.90 inches, meaning the state needs more than 21 inches added to the October-December total just to get back to normal.

"We are in record dry territory, and this needs to be stressed," said Anderson.

The National Weather Service revealed the Northern Sierra 8 station index — which collects precipitation data from eight stations throughout the mountainous region of Northern California — shows that 4.5 inches of precipitation has fallen since the water year began Oct. 1. The driest water year ever was in 1923-24, when a modest 17.1 inches fell on the region.

While the drought manifestly affects industries that rely on water, such as the ski and agricultural industries, just about everyone will feel the pinch from the drought.

The Nevada Irrigation District is expected to declare a drought at the end of this month, meaning untreated water will be curtailed and treated water use above a certain level will be made significantly more expensive as a means of furnishing incentive conservation.

In yet another sign of the severity of the state's water problems, customers of the State Water Project will get no deliveries in 2014 if the dry conditions continue.

Deliveries to agricultural districts with long-standing water rights in the Sacramento Valley might have their deliveries cut in half.

"The harsh weather leaves us little choice," said Cowin. "If we are to have any hope of coping with continued dry weather and balancing multiple needs, we must act now to preserve what water remains in our reservoirs. Simply put, there's not enough water in the system right now for customers to expect any water this season from the project."

Another state agency is marshaling forces to protect its resources as the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed some rivers to fishing to protect native salmon and steelhead from low water flows.

Most of the rivers on the closure list are coastal, but Tyrone Gorre, co-founder of Sierra Salmon Alliance, said the lower stretch of the Yuba River beneath Englebright Dam should be closed to fishing, as well.

"The low conditions on the river right now create a situation where fisherman walk on salmon eggs and destroy them to get to various fishing holes," Gorre said.

Gorre said he plans to attend the next meeting and advocate for its inclusion.

"Yuba River has the best fish in the whole system." Gorre said.

Nevada County has established a Drought 2014 information page, which will be updated with the most current information as it is received.

The address is: http://www.mynevadacounty.com/nc/igs/oes/Pages/Drought-2014-Information-.aspx

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

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