Water managers in San Diego County said residents shouldn’t worry too much about Southern California’s bone dry weather and the Sierra Nevada mountains’ conspicuous lack of snow — the frozen reservoir that routinely holds more than half of the state’s freshwater.
“What we’re seeing right now is that San Diego has sufficient supplies for 2018, regardless of conditions,” said Tim Bombardier, principle water resources specialist at the San Diego County Water Authority, the region’s water wholesaler.
He said the region is largely insulated from how little rain falls or how much snow accumulates in the mountains this year, thanks to recent investments in seawater desalination and transfers on the Colorado River.
“Our ratepayers have invested $3.5 billion in the last three decades for increasing the region’s drought resiliency,” Bombardier said. “That’s part of what differentiates us from other parts of the state.”
By contrast, environmental groups said recent dry condition provide evidence that residents and businesses need to continue significantly limiting their water use, such as they did following Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2014 drought declaration.
“This is why we need to build on the conservation success we saw during the drought,” said Matt O’Malley, executive director of San Diego Coastkeeper. “This is really a question about long-term water management.”
The California Department of Water Resources on Wednesday took its first manual snowpack reading of the winter at Phillips Station south of Lake Tahoe, finding conditions at just 3 percent of the historical average for this time of year.
Electronic monitoring found statewide snowpack at 24 percent of normal, about 9 percent of an April 1 benchmark.
While agency officials said about half of the state’s annual precipitation usually comes in December, they were quick to point out that the rainy season is far from over.
“The survey is a disappointing start of the year, but it’s far too early to draw conclusions about what kind of a wet season we’ll have this year,” Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program who conducted survey at Phillips, said in a press statement.
At the same time, Southern California is seeing one of its driest starts to the water year in decades, the National Weather Service said Wednesday.
“The start of the storm season has been exceptionally dry,” said Ryan Kittell, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. “It’s one of the driest in history.”
The paltry amount of rainfall is part of a larger weather trend for Southern California: Over the last seven years, maximum temperatures during the fall have gotten hotter and there has been less rain.
October and November were the hottest in 122 years of record keeping for the region — a major turnaround from last year, when Northern California was battered by a series of “atmospheric river” storms that helped end the state’s five-year drought.
Roughly 13 percent of San Diego County’s water comes through the California Aqueduct from snowpack-fed reservoirs to the north, according to the water authority.
About 87 percent of the region’s water comes from local supplies, such as Poseidon desalination plant in Carlsbad, or from the Colorado River.
The Colorado River — which feeds Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam east of Las Vegas — has in recent years also been subject to severe drought conditions. However, the water flowing into California has senior rights, meaning that if federal authorities issued cutbacks, it would likely first hit other states such as Arizona and Nevada.
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.
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