Drought still on

By From page A4 | May 30, 2014

Wednesday, May 21, saw a thunderstorm drop a deluge of water on Placerville about 5 p.m. It was enough to add 0.2 inch to the Mountain Democrat rain gauge.

If it hadn’t lasted only about an hour or so, but rather had gone on overnight, we would have been talking about some serious rain. Instead the .02 inch brought our season total up to 19.25 inches.

The El Dorado Irrigation District and most other water agencies measure rainfall from Oct. 1. General weather statistics like ours begin the rainfall year on July 1 and end it on June 30.

A look at the AccuWeather forecast for Placerville sees sunshine for the balance of this month. Sunshine for June, with the exception of one possible thunderstorm near the end of the month is also forecast by AccuWeather. The 139-year average rainfall for June is 0.52 inch. That’s not much. The more likely scenario is a lot less. June comes up with a big goose egg for precipitation 43 times out of 139. That’s 31 percent odds of striking out in June.

So, where do we stack up with 19.25 inches of rainfall? This remains the third driest year on record. The drought years of 1975-77 hold the top two spots for driest years: 15.9 inches in 1975-76 and 15.86 inches in 1976-77.

In 1985-86, Folsom Dam was almost overtopped when 18.87 inches fell in February. But the total rain year was less remarkable, totaling 49.55 inches, only 10 inches above average. That year, however, was followed by the fourth driest year as 1986-87 recorded 19.42 inches. It was the year that followed that has the El Dorado Irrigation District worried about how much water it will have left over for next year. After the 19.42-inch-year of 86-87 the year 1987-88 recorded 22.5 inches — the eighth driest year on record. That was a very low water year that followed what was a drought year.

The fifth driest rain-year was 19.47 inches recorded in 1897-98. That was a one-off year sandwiched in between two good water years.

We consider any weather year that records less than 25 inches to be a year of concern, less than optimal, somewhat dry. Starting with the driest and going up, the following years hold the top 12 dry years:

1. 1976-1977 — 15.86 inches

2. 1975-76 — 15.90 inches

3. 2013-14 — 19.25 inches (to date)

4. 1986-87 — 19.42 inches

5. 1897-98 — 19.47 inches

6. 1911-12 — 21.55 inches

7. 1930-31 — 22.41 inches

8. 1987-88 — 22.5 inches

9. 1947-48  — 23.10 inches

10. 1957-58 — 23.19 inches

11. 2007-08 — 23.74 inches

12. 1960-61 — 24.33 inches.

These dry years constitute 8.6 percent of the 139 years of Mountain Democrat rainfall records.

Since Jan. 1 EID customers have cut back 4 percent as of May 20. For the week of May 16-20 the water savings figure is 16 percent. The goal, of course, is 30 percent. Realistically, 20 percent savings would represent a victory for EID at this time. Clearly, there are some residents to whom the message has not come through.

Especially worrisome is the fact that Sly Park’s lake level started dropping as of the May 22 report. One factor is releases into Clear Creek are a tad more than what is coming into Sly Park’s Jenkinson Lake. EID should use its emergency drought declaration to reduce that aesthetic flow released by contractual agreement to the residents along Clear Creek. Folsom Lake and Shasta Lake also started dropping even more substantially as outflows considerably exceeded inflows. This should be the subject of a congressional investigation.

By contrast, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s Upper American River Project has still been building up its reserves, minimizing its outflows. No consumptive water is at stake here. It will also be used for power generation to run Sacramento air conditioners in the summer and ensure the rafting industry will be rolling  in dough.

Mountain Democrat

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