Our View: Good news, but drought not over
March 30, 2016
Readers were no doubt glad to see good news shared by Nevada Irrigation District on the brimming levels of water in its reservoirs this week.
Water levels and mountain snowpack are apparently so abundant that NID rescinded its 2015 drought declaration and is asking the state to "roll back" its mandated 33 percent reduction of consumption by treated water uses to a "4 percent conservation tier, based on adequate treated water supply."
But make no mistake, the drought is not over.
According to an Associated Press report, despite this month's storms, which mostly drenched the state's northern regions, the Sierra Nevada snowpack contains 10 percent less water than average for this time of year.
However, that is certainly a stark improvement from this time last year, when it was worse than 90 percent below average.
Closer to home, NID reported precipitation at Bowman Reservoir (elev. 5,650 ft.) reached 69.34 inches on March 20, which is 127 percent of average for the date. The month of March alone produced 21 inches, which helped NID reservoir storage jump to 239,420 acre-feet by March 20, which is 90 percent of capacity. And the current snowpack, NID said in a news release, is expected to melt and bolster reservoir levels through much of the year, "making the year a good recovery year for hydroelectric power generation and public recreation."
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With full reservoirs and a greater than normal snow pack it is most probable that the 27,000 customers of NID in Nevada, Yuba and Placer counties are "out of the woods" so to speak for the rest of the year, but our local conditions significantly differ from the balance of the state, especially Southern California.
Any declaration of the drought being over would be irresponsible and it is premature to declare water conservation no longer necessary. After all, just in first quarter of the year, we've seen extreme changes in weather patterns. Although January brought heavy rains and the "March Miracle" of storms helped bolster the snowpack, February saw record heat and prolonged dry spells.
We should all be encouraged to continue our conservative water usage even if it's not mandated. We just never know when our next dry spell will arise and we could be back in the same "boat" with our oars hitting silt next year.
As NID presses forward to increase its capacity for water storage with plans for its Centennial Reservoir project — a project if approved would not be completed until 2023 — conservation of water should remain a priority here and all across the state. Our wet weather has offered relief, but, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported earlier this month, it's "not enough to make up for the damage and the deficits of the prolonged drought. … Many communities remain behind in water storage, groundwater levels are critically low after years of over-pumping, and California's hills and valleys lack the usual moisture for plant and animal life."
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor report released March 17, which marked the first significant reductions in the percentage of drought this winter, "significant precipitation deficits remained across California from the state's 4 to 5 year drought."
Back home, NID officials were glad to give the good news this week, but still encourage conservation methods, whether the state rolls back mandates or not.
"We're not encouraging customers not to conserve," NID Water Operations Manager Chip Close told The Union. "Folks need to conserve their water resources."
The weekly Our View column represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.