Drought lingers

By From page A4 | April 07, 2014

Drought conditions still prevail, but it is not the killer drought of 1975-77. The real deficit was the warm December-January when short-sleeved shirts prevailed. In December 2013 the Mountain Democrat rain gauge measured 0.10 inch and the average daytime temperature was 67. In January, we measured 0.75 inch of rain and the average daytime temperature was 73.8 compared to 55.8 degrees Farenheit average daytime temperature for 12 Januaries that we have records for.

February began to make up for the deficit by recording 8.85 inches, which was 2.43 inches more than the 139-year average for February. March saw a respectable 5.28 inches of rain; that was 0.9 inch less than the average for March.

This month we have had 0.80 inch of rain. We’re off to a reasonable start for April, which averages only 3.42 inches over the last 139 years of Mountain Democrat rainfall stats. Total rainfall for the season that began July 1, 2013, is now 17.14 inches. That places this rain-year in third place for the driest year, at this time.

The driest years were 1976-77 at 15.86 inches and 1975-76 at 15.90 inches.

Two other years recorded less than 20 inches of precipitation: 1985-86 at 19.42 inches and 1897-98 at 19.47 inches.

Will we meet or exceed those two 19-inch rain-years? AccuWeather’s forecast for this month currently outlines rain next Friday and Saturday and again on Monday. The indications are not for a downpour like we had at the end of March when we measured 1 inch in the rain gauge the morning of March 30. That really saturated the ground. If we get two or three inches before June 30 the year can wind up in the 19-to-20-inch range. The fifth driest year was 1923-24 at 20.13 inches.

The 139-year average for May is 1.69 inches, but nine times May has seen zero rainfall. The average for June is 0.52 inch, but there have been 43 Junes with no rainfall.

The reservoirs are starting to show improvement. Folsom Lake is now at 46 percent of capacity, up from a low of 17 percent. It is not likely to fill. The snow survey Tuesday at Phillips Station on Highway 50 showed 33.7 nches of snow, most of which fell over the weekend, according to chief state snow surveyor Frank Gerhke.

Still, water was flowing into Folsom Lake at a moderate clip of 4,874 cubic feet per second. Shasta Lake hit 49 percent and the upper Sacramento River was flowing into Shasta at 11,307 cfs.

Locally, Sly Park is at 81 percent with the help of rainfall and transfers from the El Dorado Canal via the Hazel Creek Tunnel. Feeding that canal are four alpine reservoirs that are part of what is called Project 184. Caples Lake is at 59 percent capacity and Silver Lake at 38 percent capacity. Both have a snowpack that will raise their levels. Still frozen in are Echo Lake and Lake Aloha.

The rafting season looks like it will survive. Flows on the South Fork of the American River primarily depend on the Upper Mountain Project that belongs to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. Though the El Dorado County Water Agency is working on a plan to get 40,000 acre-feet of water from SMUD for consumptive use, the 400,000 acre-feet SMUD stores is only used for power generation — 688 megawatts. SMUD’s reservoirs are filling reasonably well. Loon Lake is at 67 percent, Ice House is at 76 percent and Union Valley is at 63 percent as measured April 2.

Predictions of an El Nino for next rain year range from 60 percent to 80 percent. If it happens expect up to 60 inches of rain in 2014-2015.

For now, though, the bottom line for El Dorado Irrigation District customers is using 30 percent less water. The important thing is to have enough water in Sly Park to carry through a potential second year of drought.

Mountain Democrat

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