California’s snowpack, shown on March 28, has seen big improvement in the month of March. (NASA Worldview)
March 29, 2018 – 5:55 p.m.
Much of California, very dry at the end of February, had a welcome wet March. But it wasn’t a March miracle.
Fortunately for both state and local water supplies, a miracle wasn’t needed. Both are in good shape, authorities say.
“We have sufficient supplies through 2018 and into the foreseeable future, regardless of weather conditions,” said Alexi Schnell, water resources specialist for the San Diego County Water Authority. “Our local water storage is at 50 percent of capacity. That’s not considered low by any means. We’re in a good place.”
Statewide, reservoir storage is above 106 percent of normal for this time of year. The snowpack that was far below normal on March 1 nearly tripled after a solid month, although it is still well below normal.
“We’ve been shying away from the miracle March comparison,” said Dave Rizzardo, chief of the Snow Surveys section of the California Department of Water Resources. “We call it a good March. It was nice, but it’s not even close to ’91.”
March 1991 gave birth to the “miracle March” phrase. California was mired in its fifth year of drought. December, January and February were drier than normal around the state. California needed massive deluges in March to pull out of drought, and it got them. Some key watersheds in Northern California recorded 17 to 18 inches of rain that month.
“Going into March this year, it was not nearly as bad,” Rizzardo said.
That’s because last year was the wettest on record in the North Sierra. Even after the massive dam failure last year at Lake Oroville, which forced water managers to release millions of gallons of water per minute to lower the risk of the dam’s collapse, the state’s reservoir levels, overall, were in good shape heading into this winter.
An extremely dry year would have taken the state a step closer to falling back into drought. Some areas of the state, depending on their water resources, can slip into drought in one year. Generally speaking, it takes multiple dry years for that to happen to the state as a whole, Rizzardo said.
On March 1, it looked like California might be taking that first, big step toward drought. The state’s snowpack stood at 20 percent of normal. But after a March that ranks in the upper tier for mountain snow in Northern California, the snowpack now stands at 58 percent – less than ideal but not dire because of the previous wet year.
Watersheds in the North Sierra, which feed into Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, the two largest reservoirs in the state, made a huge jump in March. As of Thursday, the region was at 79 percent of normal precipitation.