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Ringing in a New Water Year Revisited

By Erin Loury, FISHBIO

03/31/15 -- [The following article was first posted at MyOutdoorBuddy on September 29, 2014…we are now halfway through the new water year. What will April & May offer in 2015?] It’s time to make some water-related resolutions, because October 1 marks the beginning of a new water year. A "water year" is a term used by the U.S. Geological Survey and hydrologists to describe the season in which most of the precipitation falls and snowpack accumulates in the United States. Rather than following a calendar year, a water year does not split the fall and winter seasons because the majority of storms occur between October and May. A water year is identified by the year in which it ends, so September 30 will mark the last day of the 2014 water year, and October 1 the beginning of the 2015 water year. In California's Central Valley, the Department of Water Resources classifies water years into different types ("wet," "above normal," "below normal," "dry," or "critical"), based on indices for the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers that reflect the amount of runoff available in each basin.
New Hogan Reservoir, FISHBIO
New Hogan Reservoir, FISHBIO

This third consecutive year of below-average precipitation in California has lead to a major drought, which is reflected in the water years. The 2014 water year has turned out to be one of the driest on record, with the runoff conditions in both the Sacramento and San Joaquin basins designated as "critical." The previous two water years (2012 and 2013) were classified as "below normal" and "dry" in the Sacramento Basin, and "dry" and "critical" in the San Joaquin Basin, respectively. Although California's previous dry period before the current one only lasted three water years (from 2007-2009), the state has seen much longer dry stretches. The six years from 1987-1992 were almost entirely "critical" water years (four "critical" and two "dry" years in the Sacramento River basin, and six "critical" years in the San Joaquin River basin).

California's water reservoir storage graph, FISHIBIO, Erin Loury
California's Reservoir Storage Graph, FISHBIO

The outlook for the new water year is grim based on current estimates of California's reservoir storage (see graph above). During the 2014 water year, California received only 60 percent of average precipitation in the Northern Sierra and 48 percent of average in the Southern Sierra. Despite measures to conserve our stored water, the carryover into the new water year is small. The Central Valley Project reservoirs (Trinity, Shasta, Folsom, New Melones, and San Luis) are at approximately one-third of their capacity, and the major State Water Project reservoirs are in no better shape. The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) recently released the September water operation summary, which projects how water storage will change over the next year if the state were to receive an average amount of rain and snowfall (an amount that we have received or exceeded in 50 percent of historical years). The bad news is that even an average year would not make up the difference in water storage depleted over the past three dry years. And if 2015 is drier than average, the effects on water storage will be even worse.

This means that even if we receive an average amount of precipitation this coming year, some water storage facilities will be no better off this time next year than they are right now. For example, New Melones (see graph below) has been drawn down to 22% of capacity, and is projected to be depleted even further before there is any chance of receiving replenishing precipitation. The graph below shows storage in New Melones Reservoir is also currently in worse shape now (blue line) than it was three years into the six-year drought of 1987-1992 (green line). As reservoir levels drop, coldwater storage is in danger of being depleted, leaving fisheries managers with water that is too warm to support salmon and steelhead in the lower Central Valley Rivers.

New Melones Precipitation Graph, FISHBIO
New Melones Precipitation Graph, FISHBIO

Is the end of the California drought near? Early signs of an El Niño developing this fall brought hope to many that California might have some relief from the drought, but there is no guarantee that a wetter than normal rainfall is on the way, even if an El Niño occurs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center is currently forecasting that any El Niño effect this year will be weak. It's possible that the drought could be far from over, as the last extended dry period lasted six water years (1987-1992). So from a management perspective, it is best to plan for the worst-case scenario and save as much water as possible, because there is ultimately no way to know what is in store for the new water year.

FISHBIO is a dedicated group of research scientists, engineers, and technicians that specialize in counting, tracking, and analyzing trends in fish and wildlife populations throughout the world. An expert staff, technical capacity, and state-of-the-art equipment make FISHBIO a trailblazer in aquatic research. For more information, please visit FISHBIO.com

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Don Webster, author badge, myoutdoorbuddy.com
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Northern California Fishing News, Northern California Hunting Reports

Fishing News

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the reports being filed daily at MyOutdoorBuddy.com.

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If you like to explore the great outdoors your choices are essentially infinite in Northern California and Southern Oregon. Use our news pages to plan your next outing!

Northern California Destination News, Northern California Destination Reports

Destinations

So many places to visit and so little time, but if you scan
these pages you'll know in advance what lies ahead and what
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Buddy Photos

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A preview of coming attractions...if you are planning a trip to this area be forewarned: What photographers have captured will whet your appetite for what will be an outdoor journey filled with wonders.  

Product & Services Directory

Don't let anything come between you and a wonderful weekend, vacation or or auto tour in this region. The fine product and services providers listed here will have what you need to enjoy your visit.  

Come back to MyOutdoorBuddy.com for more Northern California and Southern Oregon fishing, hunting and outdoor news, reports, information, opinions and photos.

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