October 1, 2008
Drought to Linger As Rainfall Totals Continue to Drop
By Jennifer McLain
With the official end of the water year Tuesday, experts pointed to record-low levels in aquifers and continued dry weather as factors likely to push the San Gabriel Valley into another year of drought.
Today marks the beginning of a new water year, which counts rainfall and snowpack runoff from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
The Main San Gabriel Basin, an underground aquifer that spans the San Gabriel Valley, is expected to reach its lowest level in 75 years if drought conditions continue.
And the amount of runoff recorded in the Sacramento Valley - which is the main measure used to determine the state's available water - is also below average.
"We've had two critically dry years in Northern California, where we get about a third of our water from," said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. "This is a very, very, challenging and tough situation."
And it could get worse.
"This year was relatively low," said Maury Roos, chief hydrologist for the California Department of Water Resources. "Climatologist tend to think that it could be drier than average next year."
These recorded lows, along with a decline in imported water and an increase in demand, could lead to higher rates and rationing, officials said.
Most of Southern California's imported water from the north is pumped from the Sacramento Valley, where the average runoff level is 18.6 million acre-feet.
But the 2007-08 water year yielded only 10.2 million acre-feet, about the same as the year before. The lowest recorded year in the past century was 1977, which came in at 5.12 million acre-feet.
The low rainfall in the Bay Area parallels other local and statewide measurements.
In the Main San Gabriel Basin, the water level is approaching historic lows.
Last month, it was recorded at 203.5 feet above sea level. The lowest recorded level was 195.5 in 2005.
Statewide, the total rainfall and snowpack added up to only 26 million acre-feet - only 60 percent of the 71 million acre-feet average.
California's reservoirs are down to 62 percent storage capacity. Diamond Valley Lake, a reservoir built by the MWD that is capable of storing nearly 800,000 acre-feet, is expected to be sucked down to 50 percent capacity by the end of the year.
"We are moving into the potential third dry year, and there is not any sort of guarantee that we will be able to refill the reservoirs," said Jennifer Persike, spokeswoman for the Association of California Water Agencies.
Records show that there have been other, much drier periods, such as from 1924-34, 1976-77, and 1987-92.
"We've had quite a bit drier years and have had very wet years," Roos said. "It only takes one week of rain to make a difference."
But Kightlinger said that even if the rainy season bounces back, court orders calling for the cutback of pumping the delta because of impacts to endangered species will limit how much water can be collected.
"Even if we get good rainfall, until we get our conveyance system fixed," Kightlinger said, "we are going to face an uncertain future."
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