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Is California's drought over? Here's what you need to know about rain, snow reservoirs and drought

Original post made on Jan 16, 2023

A dozen days of wet and wild weather haven't ended the drought, and won't cure the driest period in the West in the past 1,200 years.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, January 15, 2023, 9:00 AM

Comments (10)

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2023 at 11:10 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Wallace Stegner is best known as an author of fiction, but in researching his books, he wrote a great history of the opening of the west, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West. Within that history is a fascinating account of the history of drought in the west and federal and local government efforts (led by Powell in that early period) to understand and manage it through studies, land use and water rights legislation, agency creation, etc. The history is well written and worth reading if you want to begin to deeply understand how we got here. Aside from climate change, we have been taking water too much for granted since settlers arrived from around the world and began stripping native grasslands to farm prairies in the Midwest and tilling the dry hills and valleys of California. Waste of aquifer waters started early and continued in California with the development of statewide systems to distribute water without great catchment systems to capture and SAVE water when cyclical atmospheric rivers run through. The one we are experiencing now is record-breaking, and sadly, too little has been done to invest in capture and preserve this fresh water deluge for the inevitable drought cycle that will return. As weather cycles get more severe, we should be investing heavily in repairing and building new water catchment and holding systems--which is, in most locations, cheaper and less environmentally impactful than desalination. Fresh water is the lifeblood of our food basket. We cannot live without it. Let's make preservation of and more thoughtful distribution of fresh water a priority in California. As individuals, we can each help by using water more carefully in our daily lives.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2023 at 11:12 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Depends who you ask!

Drought is one of those words that a dictionary definition will be different to a politician's definition which is different to a farmer's definiton. Nowadays, it is probably more to do with high tech definition because if they don't like it, they will label it false information.

Generally speaking drought is more to do with rainfall, than anything else, except in California where it means exactly what the government want it to mean.

Posted by BruceS
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 16, 2023 at 12:16 pm

BruceS is a registered user.

@Bystander, get real!

"There are no facts. Everything is a matter of opinion". That's about what you're saying, and it's wrong. Did you even look at the bars of snow measurement at the end of the article? Have you bothered to read about the ground sinking in the Central Valley because of too much well water taken? The entire West verifiably and seriously in the middle of a serious long-term drought. If you want to stick your head in the sand and declare otherwise, fine, but it doesn't change any facts.

Posted by Scottie Zimmerman
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2023 at 2:28 pm

Scottie Zimmerman is a registered user.

One long-term culprit in this story is the Nestle corporation. They have taken water from California springs & aquifers for over 30 years, most recently raiding the Santa Barbara area. What do they do with the water they steal for free? They sell it as bottled water! Nestle had a permit at one time, which expired. Nevertheless, they continued sucking water from California's aquifers. And they aren't the only bottled-water company that's after all the water they can get from us. I ask people at Trader Joe's to stop selling bottled water, and they laugh. It's one of their best-selling items. I don't know why people in Palo Alto, with the delicious water from Hetch-Hetchy, think they need bottled water. Not to mention the leftover excess plastic that gets dumped into our oceans. I boycott all Nestle products, but you have to read labels carefully to learn which products at the supermarket are from Nestle.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2023 at 2:35 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

The problems are real, not the fact that we are not getting enough rainfall. We have abundant rainfall already this year, it is poor water management that has been decades in the making that is causing the problems mentioned in the article. Water management is using the drought word to make it sound like it is not their fault. Drought is low rainfall, poor water management over decades allows mismanagement of the water resource we have.

The example of wells in the Central Valley was given. I happen to be familiar with artesian well drilling due to a family business many years ago, not in California. The well was necessary due to the mains supply not being able to provide enough water and permits and a meter monitored very carefully the amount taken and the water was being used for the licensed purpose. The cost of the license varied each year dependent on rainfall and the depth of the water table. I don't remember any problems with subsidence. It was not a perfect system, but it did at least pay attention to what was happening in the aquifers.

Using the drought word to excuse poor water management makes no sense when we are well above average if not one of the highest rainfall years on record. Manage the water better and there will be an adequate supply and the need for concern will be much less.

Posted by Easy8
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 16, 2023 at 7:37 pm

Easy8 is a registered user.

I agree with Bystander. Everyone should know that statistics can easily be manipulated to tell the narrative you want.

The article notes that the drought monitor "is based on a long list of complex metrics, including soil moisture, water shortages, levels of streams and lakes, snow cover and runoff"

All of those factors are trending very well. The one remaining factor that alarms some people is the groundwater situation, and the sinking of the Central Valley that has been going on for decades. Apparently, that is a major factor for this drought formula.

It's a supply AND demand problem. Let's say someone has an annual salary of $300,000 a year. But they spend $500,000 a year. That's a problem, even though the salary is good.

In a hypothetical scenario, we could have 10 straight years of average rainfall, and the groundwater could still be depleted and the ground sink, if farmers remain aggressive with pumping the aquifers hard.

In summary, depleted groundwater is a complicated situation, which includes antiquated water rights ownership laws, etc. Asserting the sinking of the ground is all due to "man made CO2" is much too simplistic.

@BruceS - The chart the author posted displaying low snow pack is almost one year old. Look closely. It is unclear why the author posted outdated data. Here is updated information about the snowpack. We are at 209%-288% of normal to date

Web Link

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Jan 17, 2023 at 9:11 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

A drought is defined as drier than normal conditions. California has been in a drought off and on for years. California has a Mediterranean climate. To deny the drought in this state is as asinine as saying it doesn't get dark at night. Get real. If you think water is being mismanaged, you're entitled to your opinion. It doesn't change the definition of drought or take away the fact that we've been in a drought a long time. Your logic is flawed.

Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 17, 2023 at 9:58 am

Neal is a registered user.

With over 39 million residents in California and a booming agricultural economy, there will always be a supply and demand drought.

Posted by Paige
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2023 at 9:40 am

Paige is a registered user.

California's sources and uses of water are highly balkanized.

California crosses several distinct weather zones -arid Southwest (Colorado River Basin) to Pacific Northwest rainforest (Redwoods). California has had successive periods of dry followed by wet since .... forever. "Drought" actually has several technical definitions.

Therefore the debate over "the" "drought" is rather silly and misleading until debaters nail down their terms.

Since most news stories try to generalize to "California" as if it were singular, they tend to concentrate on SoCal which hosts 2/3rds of the population and whose source is mostly the Colorado River Basin and other sources East of the Sierras.

Sources: aquifers, surface rainfall, snow melt, desalination, reclamation
Storage sources: Which reservoir, how is it supplied?
Areas: Colorado River Basin, Sierra, Central Valley, Coastal, Pacific Northwest etc.
Historical: wet/dry pattern A in area B changing to wet/dry pattern A' in area B'.
Uses: rice farming, drinking, almond farming, watering garden

Supplier: Fed Project, State Project, Balkanized Agency, SFPUC, EBMUD, LADWP, etc.

Finally: Contractual allocations of water. Do they annually exceed what is available? If they do, if California demand is oversubscribed (it is for some uses in some areas) then there IS NEVER AN END TO "THE" "DROUGHT." In particular, some aquifers have been drained for over half a century. The subsidence cannot ever be practically replenished.

Finally. The SFPUC has a vast oversupply in enormous reservoir capacity and demand well below capacity and obligation to deliver, despite increasing populations. By its own analysis, with mild rationing, it could withstand severe drought events whose return rate has been estimated to be greater than 5000 and up to 750,000 years, including climate change scenarios under RCP 8.5.

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2023 at 1:21 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

With or without the present historic drought, I think we can agree that water in the West is a precious resource that we should have been conserving more carefully for the last couple of centuries as we developed the state. It's not too late to start now.

We need to reform our statewide water systems to conserve and distribute precious fresh water better AND we all need to use water more carefully.

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