With storms pummeling Southern California, and California’s Northern Sierras receiving the third-highest early season precipitation in the last 50 years, state officials doubled the amount of water they expect to provide next year from the State Water Project.
Mark Cowin, director of the Department of Water Resources stated, “This winter’s wet start gives us hope we’ll be able to keep increasing the State Water Project allocation,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle. But he warned that “the faucet can shut off suddenly and leave us dry for a sixth year in a row.”
Californians were told earlier this year that a “La Niña” weather pattern would bring a warm winter and continuation of the drought. But a number of early storms and the recent polar vortex brought near record snow, widespread flooding, and freezing temperatures.
NASA warned on December 11 that a polar vortex would push all the way down to California to bring a “trough of cold air was sweeping down from Canada into the northern plains and is expected to bring very chilly temperatures over the north central and northeastern US on December 14 and 15.”
Just as Winter Storm Decima started to unleash its fury on December 14, the California Department of Water Resources reported that early Northern Sierras precipitation was running about 17 percent above its 100 year seasonal average, and the third-highest on record. At the time, the 12 major dams in California were near or at their seasonal “average water storage level” for the first time in four years.
After the DWR published its latest survey, Mammoth Mountain reported picking up another 29 inches of snow on December 15. On December 22, a very wet weather system moved up from Mexico to bring drenching rain to Southern California, and is expected to dump heavy snows on the Sierras over Christmas.
The mountain-fed State Water Project system of dams and lakes provides water to 29 urban suppliers and irrigation districts, from Southern California to the East Bay. The California agency has provided only a fraction of what has been requested by their customers over the last six years of drought, and has not provided 100 percent of demand since 2006.
The federally run Central Valley Project, which services agricultural communities and urban centers and agriculture has not yet said how much water it expects to release this year, but huge dams like Shasta are already substantially above average seasonal water levels.
California Citrus Mutual reported that orange growers throughout the San Joaquin Valley dodged a bullet last weekend after the National Weather Service issued a hard-freeze warning with some areas around Fresno and Hanford expecting temperatures of 25 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for up to 10 hours. Temperatures were cold, but not cold enough to cause damage to the citrus crop.
The Citrus Mutual told ABC 30, “A little bit of cold weather is beneficial for fruit,” because cold weather prevents ripening too fast, allowing the fruit to hang on the trees and get bigger. If conditions continue, California could be looking at a huge orange harvest.