Despite some rainy weather to start the fall season, a lack of recent precipitation coupled with pre-existing drought conditions means the need for water conservation in California is far from over.
The latest U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest California map released on Wednesday shows that about 80% of the state is currently experiencing extreme or exceptional drought, with 28% classified as experiencing exceptional drought. The latter percentage is an improvement upon the week prior, when nearly 38% of the state was in exceptional drought.
Despite experiencing the second-wettest October on record last month, nearly 95% of Stanislaus County is currently considered to be in exceptional drought — the most extreme drought category on the monitor.
At the Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday, Hydrologist Olivia Cramer shared that while October received over four inches more precipitation than average for the month, November has been comparatively dry when it comes to rainfall in the Tuolumne River Watershed.
There have been just 1.07 inches of rainfall this month, compared to the average of 4.18 inches for November. The watershed received 6.17 inches in October, improving upon the average of 1.99 inches. The 2021-2022 precipitation year began in September.
“We’re still sitting at 25% of average for the month. When we’re looking at the total for the precipitation year, we’re at 7.31 inches which is 133.2% for the date,” Cramer said. “Right now, our projections are still looking pretty strong.”
While these October weather events provided some much-needed snowfall in the Sierra Nevada, the snowpack has decreased drastically since then and is currently measuring at minimal levels. Cramer said there is currently 40,000-acre feet of snow water equivalent, or about 50% of average for the state.
“When that October event hit, we were well above average as far as snowpack,” she said. “You really don’t see a lot of snow in the October period, but with November being dry, we started to slowly drop to below average conditions for the snowpack.”
According to Cramer, there could be up to a quarter of an inch of rainfall within the next 16 days and a moisture-filled atmosphere in the forecast could provide for some precipitation, though it’s nothing certain. Soil moisture is currently measuring at above average, however, thanks to the October rainfall. The statistic could prove valuable, since more soil moisture means less snowpack runoff will be absorbed into the ground, instead filling streams and reservoirs.
Although the Don Pedro Reservoir is sitting at about 40 feet below last year’s levels, the lake’s elevation has improved since summer and levels are increasing at a rate of a tenth of a foot per day.
During a drought webinar hosted on Monday by the National Integrated Drought Information Center, forecasters stated there is a 50% chance that California’s drought will worsen after this winter and just a 40% chance that water supplies will return to normal.
For more information on the state’s drought status, visit www.droughtmonitor.unl.edu