Is the Rain Enough for the California Drought?

The entire state of California has experienced one of the wettest seasons and historic rain and snow in recent years, but will this be enough for the drought?

On one hand, record precipitation has flooded all throughout California, collapsing hillsides, breaking levees, and taking out power of thousands of Californians. On the other hand, the rain has replenished many reservoirs and built up snowpack. 

The fluctuations of deluge (floods) and droughts throughout the year is common in California, both long and short term. Even though California has built up infrastructure to capture water through reservoirs, our current infrastructure does not have the capacity to effectively capture and store water during these extremely wet periods.

These recent storms have brought in not only rain, but also snow pack which is critical for the state’s water system. While rain recharges the state’s reservoirs in winter, snow melt helps reserve the levels during warmer months. This alone helps provide about 30% of the state’s water supply if this process happens in a slow manner. With warmer temperatures coming earlier and staying longer throughout the year, it can disrupt this significant and critical process.

Drought map from January to February 2023 by U.S. Drought Monitor
Drought map over the years from 2011 to 2015 provided by U.S. Drought Monitor

In addition, the state’s aquifers are another source of water we rely on heavily. Our aquifers can hold more water than all of its major reservoirs combined, but it has been depleted over the decades due to heavy pumping, especially in regions in the Central Valley for agriculture. This goes the same for our groundwater stock.

Although it may seem like the drought is over, it is far from it. Surface storage water may have been restored in big cities, but other parts of the state, like in Central Valley for example, where thousands of wells have been dried out, it will take a sequence of years to rejuvenate those groundwater basins.

While this rainy season could have refilled our biggest reservoirs in California, it cannot be said for Colorado River reservoirs in other states, such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Seven states, including 40 million people where almost half of them are in California, draw water from these reservoirs for decades and its levels are declining in record time. Unfortunately, several wet seasons in a row will not be able to refill these reservoirs with growing and high demand. 

The drought and growing population may be among the reasons for our depleted sources of water, but a huge issue that adds to that equation is the challenge of capturing and storing the water. Our water systems and structures are simply not built for it. Unfortunately, most of our rainfall flows into our storm drains to our rivers or into the ocean due to existing infrastructure, like concrete flood control channels.

Recent storms during these earlier months have called for the need to design and build stormwater systems to capture runoff; however, it could take a tremendous amount of money and resources as well as many years, if not decades, to build them.  

This comes to show how important water efficiency is. Utility programs are crucial to conserving our water resources. You can help preserve our water by participating in one of the following utility programs. 

For more information about our water efficiency programs or learn how you can participate, call 1-800-818-4298.

Sources: To learn more, read this New York Time's article. Drought maps are provided by Mother Jones and Yahoo!, respectively.