California drought: How much do recent storms help the state’s water supply?
LOS ANGELES (KABC) – After the driest start to any year on record, California ended 2022 with snow-covered mountains, wet roads and flood warnings.
The wet weather continues into 2023, with this week’s bomb cyclone dropping several inches of rain.
So what difference does this make to California’s prolonged drought?
Experts say the wet winter takes a toll, but there is still a long way to go before the state’s water supplies can be rebuilt to sufficient levels.
“The rain in California will certainly help, but it won’t alleviate the overall drought in the western United States,” said Lowell Stott, professor of soil sciences at the University of Southern California.
Stott says our water resources rely on a continuous seasonal accumulation of snow and ice at high elevations in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
“In California we depend on high elevation snow and ice accumulation because we get so little precipitation during the spring and summer seasons. And so during the winter, we accumulate snow and ice hopefully at high elevations. And during the winter months spring, that precipitation that was in the form of snow begins to melt, and the runoff from that melting flows into the reservoirs,” Stott said.
Stott says it will take many years of consistent rain to see a change in drought, which is why water conservation efforts are still so important.
A map of conditions in California produced by the US Drought Monitor can be found here. The most recent map update on Dec. 29, before the latest storms, showed large swaths of inland California — more than a third of the state from Kern County north to the Oregon border — in the two most extreme states of “exceptional” and “extraordinary” and “extreme” drought.
In Los Angeles, water supplies come from several sources, including snowfall in the Sierras—but also direct rainfall capture. So, big storms help this aspect.
Steven Frasher, public information officer for Los Angeles County Public Works, says about a third of LA County’s water supply comes from stormwater capture.
“The big priority for a storm event is to capture as much of the precipitation as we can,” Frasher said.
“You could almost call it stormwater harvesting. Even in this recent storm over the New Year’s weekend, the county was able to capture almost 2 billion gallons of stormwater for use in groundwater recharge.”
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