Though the Sacramento Bee recognizes the obvious, it still can’t bring itself to mention the Auburn Dam.
After five years of drought, could California really have so much rain and snow there’s no room to store all the water?
The answer – as the state’s water picture careens from bust to boom – is yes.
One month into an exceptionally stormy 2017, river flows though the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have been so powerful that the massive pumps that ship north-state water to Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley have roared at full throttle for weeks. The federal and state pumping stations near Tracy delivered more water in January than in any month in the last 12 years, according to a Sacramento Bee review of data supplied by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
With more rain and snow in the forecast, the pumps could stay at capacity for the next week or two. But pump operators probably will have to dial back because they’re starting to run out of space in key reservoirs south of the Delta, said John Leahigh, who oversees day-to-day water management for the State Water Project, which delivers supplies to water agencies throughout California.
“This is definitely a 180 that we’ve done in terms of water supply,” Leahigh said.
Thursday brought more news of California’s progress against what has been a withering drought. Snow surveyors found a whopping 90 inches of snow at Phillips Station, a long-standing measuring spot near Echo Summit. That translates into 28.1 inches of “snow-water content,” a leap of 22 inches in a month. The Phillips snowpack is at 153 percent of historical average and sits at its highest measurement for early February since 2005.
Frank Gehrke, the veteran Department of Water Resources official who runs the snow survey, said the strong results reflect the heavy precipitation that fell in January, which was “pretty much a banner month in terms of the snowpack.”
Across the entire Sierra Nevada, the results were even more impressive: Snow-water content stood at 173 percent of historical average. Many spots have as much snow as they typically have on April 1, when the snow season peaks. A healthy snowpack means extra water becomes available in summer, when lawns and crops get thirsty in California’s arid central and southern expanse and demand soars.
“Basically, a seasonal snowpack (is) already on the ground,” Gehrke said. “And February and March quite often have very good storm activity.”