News Column

Drought, Dry Winter May Leave Californians Thirsty

January 3, 2014

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Record low levels of rainfall in California have water managers scrambling to stretch the state's water supply, officials say.

A two-year drought has state officials telling water districts to expect only 5 percent of the water they typically request, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Prospects for even an adequate water supply have grown slim as the rainy season, which usually starts in late October, has been unusually dry so far.

San Francisco has received slightly more than 2 inches of rain since July, about a third of its typical precipitation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says.

Charles Bell, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Monterey, said the city received only 5.59 inches of rain in 2013, breaking a record low of 8.96 inches set nearly 100 years ago.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District, which serves much of Silicon Valley, says the Almaden Reservoir is only 3.2 percent full.

Farmers could see sharp cuts in their allocation of water, with some in the Central Valley planning to leave fields unplanted. Urban users could see less drastic reductions because of efforts by water managers to bank water underground and in reservoirs. Still, some officials are planning to institute mandatory rationing as early as midsummer.

California's ski industry has also been affected. Squaw Valley Ski Resort received only 59 inches of snow at the 8,200-foot level as of Dec. 30. At the same time in 2012, the resort was enjoying 250 inches of snow.

Hiking, mountain biking and even nude sunbathing have replaced skiing at Lake Tahoe at a time the area should be covered in snow, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Measurements taken around the Sierra Mountains have found snowfall -- the same stuff that has to replenish California's water supply in the spring -- at just 19 percent of normal.

"We've gone through a summer now and an entire fall that was abnormally dry," said David Rizzardo, chief of the snow surveys section and water supply forecasting for the state Department of Water Resources. "We have a very real possibility of getting halfway through our wettest period and having only 10 or 15 percent of average snowpack."

Original headline: Long drought, dry winter may leave Californians thirsty in 2014

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