Drought Watch

By Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Posted: 02/15/14, 1:41 PM PST |

Late winter in year three of an extended drought and the local picture isn’t pretty.

Urban hillsides retain a summer pallor. Eucalyptus trees are turning brown. Rings around Southern California reservoirs are signs of a water supply that’s dropping fast. Prized underground aquifers — though not visible — are shrinking from overpumping and approaching record lows.

And once again, there’s no rain in the forecast.

Less than 1 percent of the capacity of the 14 dams spread across Los Angeles County is available for release, according to data from the Department of Public Works. Of the 183,000 acre-feet possible, the county has about 759 acre-feet it can release to replenish sinking aquifers — a 22-year low. (One acre foot of water is enough to supply two families in Southern California for a year.)

Seven of those reservoirs are bone dry, and one, Santa Anita Dam, is barely holding on to a green pool of shallow water. The big six: San Gabriel, Morris, Puddingstone, Cogswell, Big Tujunga and Pacoima maintain minimum volumes so as not to damage pipes and valves, said Kerjon Lee, spokesman for the county department.

“I’ve been here for 20 years and for mid-February, I’ve not seen it lower,” said Adam Walden, civil engineer with the water resources division of the county DPW.

The elaborate system of dams, creeks, rivers and flood control channels that provide water to a semi-arid region are hunkered down in ready mode, waiting to capture any moisture that falls from the skies.

“I’m asked to give reports about the water levels and a lot of people got sick of hearing me give bad news,” said Steve Johnson, vice president of Stetson Engineers in West Covina, who has been studying water supplies in Southern California for three decades.

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