Drought in California means good rafting in 2008?

Posted June 11, 2008 by Malina

Has Arnold smoked too many of his famous cigars or does he have an inside scoop that we missed out on?  Because we’ve been telling ourselves–and you, Dear Reader–for months that this is really a very standard year, nothing to write home about, perfectly and wonderfully normal.  So now what?  Did we spend a little too much time in the sun and lost our minds for a moment? 

To unravel the mystery, we did some investigative reportage.  And by “we” of course I mean Gregg Armstrong, because he is In The Know.  After telling me to relax and get that look of panic off my face, here’s what he told me:

First of all, there isn’t an official definition of “drought” in California.  It’s sort of a “you know a drought when you see one” sort of thing, and for most people who decide these things, when water levels in California reservoirs begin to approach 70% of their capacity, it starts lookin’ “droughtish.”  Now you and I both know that we had close to 100% normal snowpack this year, so the obvious question is why our reservoirs are so low.  To find the answer we need to take a look backward to 2007.

In 2007, we had a pretty dry winter, leaving reservoirs fairly low, and the ground quite dry.  That meant that this year, the ground soaked up close to 20% of the run-off and the winter precipitation.  This is important for ground table levels, but it leaves less water to replenish depleted reservoir stocks. 

If 2008 had been a very wet year, we could have made up the difference and our water storage facilities would have a lot more water–but we needed the 2008 snowpack to have reached 130-140% of normal in order to do that.  Not only was the snowpack an average of 100%, but March and April of this year were the driest on record.  Ouch.  As it stands, water officials predict that by the end of the summer, our reservoirs will be at around 70% capacity–the magic “drought” number.

Before you panic, here’s the good news.  First of all, our dam-controlled rivers absolutely have the water they need for an excellent season.  You can count on American River Rafting, the Tuolumne, and Cherry Creek all summer long.  This means your summer whitewater plans can continue unimpeded.  It also means we should all work on conserving water where we can so that we leave our reservoirs in the best shape we can for next winter.   So let your car get dusty, plant native drought-resistant species in your yard this summer, and turn off the faucet when you brush!!


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