Parched state looks for rain — anywhere

Islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, an aerial view. The Delta is home to about half of California's drinking water. (Photo:

When the State Water Resources Control Board met Tuesday morning, the sky west of Sacramento suggested rain was coming.

But inside the meeting room at the Cal-EPA building, the forecast was much different.

John O’Hagan of the Division of Water Rights told the board that the state’s snow water equivalent — which is the amount of water that the Sierra snow pack will produce — is only 14% of average. He added the states reservoirs are only 50 percent of capacity. Both figures elicited a gasp from those present.

Rains have been forecast, but the looming moisture may not have much impact on the water supply.

“It’s not a lot of rain. Up in the north coast, it’s very good because there is a lot of inches maybe falling up there; but as you move into the Sacramento valley it’s not as much rainfall,” O’Hagan said.

With one of the driest Januarys on record and what the Department of Water Resources (DWR) calls a “dismally meager snow pack,” the amount of rain needed to substantially ease the drought would only come via a storm of near-biblical proportions, experts say.

In the DWR’s most recent snow pack report, “to have a chance at ending the drought, California would have to record precipitation that is at least 150 percent of normal by the end of the water year on Sept. 30, or 75 inches as measured by the 8-station index. As of today, only 23.1 inches have been recorded at the stations,” according to State Climatologist Michael Anderson.

Anderson’s prescription is far from the 1-to-4 inches of rain predicted for this week by the National Weather Service. And with the snow level at 7,000 feet, the precipitation collected in the Sierra Nevada will continue to be meager.

By the time O’Hagan’s presentation was done, Sacramento’s sky was blue and there were no rain clouds in sight.

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