Saturday, April 4, 2015
A Day on the Stanislaus: There's Still Some Water in California
It's been a strange year, because by the rain gauge in my backyard, we have received near-normal precipitation. The total so far, 10.5 inches, is just short of the normal 12 inches we get in an average year (as if average years ever happen). The problem is that about seven of those inches came during an extraordinary sequence of Pineapple Express storms in December that dropped lots of rain in the Great Valley and Coast Ranges. But the storms almost entirely missed the Sierra Nevada, and because the storms were warm, very little snow fell at all. So the effect of the storm was to add several feet of water to the reservoirs, mainly in the northern Sierra Nevada, and with not a drop of rain in January, and only a few weak storms in February and March, we as a state are in dire straits. The last snow report was just 6% of normal. The worst drought in recorded history. And it is now the fourth year.
The governor has for the first time ever called for mandatory cutbacks in domestic water use, which will help, but since 80% of the water used in the state goes to agriculture, more will be needed. And what happens if the drought continues? There is evidence of two megadroughts lasting as long as a century during the last 2,000 years. Are we in the beginning of another epic drought? Who can say?
I was out for a short walk this afternoon at Horseshoe Bend Park on the Stanislaus River. The Stanislaus is the first major Sierra Nevada river north of Yosemite National Park. The headwaters are located near Sonora Pass. There are several reservoirs upstream, including the massive New Melones Dam, built in the 1970s. To make up for the sections of beautiful river that were destroyed, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a series of parks on the downstream stretches of the river between the dam and the confluence of the Stanislaus and the San Joaquin. At Horseshoe Bend there is an old gravel pit that has filled with groundwater forming an attractive pond, and a small campground for river rafters. It was a pleasant place to walk this afternoon.
We'll be back to our blog series on the Most Dangerous Plate Boundary quite soon.