California residents will remember the years spent in what seemed, at the time, to be a perpetual drought. Entire forests were dry and withered, contributing to severe wildfires in the state. However, California’s weather this year included a lot more moisture than in previous years.
This winter brought historic rain and snow storms to the state and, with them, double the annual average rainfall. As a result, some of California’s water deficit has been alleviated. Still, the state’s water supplies remain depleted due to chronic droughts and over pumping in the Central Valley. Let’s examine California’s unprecedented winter storms and why they were not enough to reverse the drought.
Where did all the snow go?
You might think that, with over six feet of snow and five inches of rain pouring down on Southern California, the state’s groundwater would have been thoroughly replenished. After all, the drought was caused by a lack of rain, so an influx of it would fix the problem, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
When it comes to overall trends in California, heavy rain or snowfall is not something you expect to see every year. California is notoriously prone to drought, and these periodic dry spells can easily become multiple dry years. Though this winter was a step in the right direction, it may not be as big of a step as you might expect.
Not only is one year of storms working against accumulative decades of drought, but the majority of rain and snowfall from the storms remains on the Earth’s surface in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and soil. Very little of the water from the winter storms has managed to permeate into underground aquifers, preventing a necessary groundwater recharge.
Additionally, the rate of groundwater depletion has increased in recent years, so we have very little to spare. The consequence of this is that, in future dry years when we cannot supplant our water usage with rain or snow, we will not have enough groundwater to draw upon.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t any water
Although it’s frustrating and disappointing to learn that the winter storms didn’t have as much of an effect on California’s water supply as we may have hoped, that doesn’t mean the state is devoid of water.
Many bodies of water that saw decreases during drought seasons have been replenished due to the rain and snow, including the Central Valley rivers that help to maintain California’s agriculture and irrigation. This is not insignificant, as the Central Valley produces a quarter of the nation’s food and supplies 8% of its agricultural output, making the water levels in the area crucial to the entire country.
While California has a long way to go in terms of rebuilding its water stores, it’s inspiring to see the lakes and rivers of the Central Valley flourishing again.