Lack of rainfall signals driest season since 1976-77

PG&E predicting sixth or seventh driest year in 117, if conditions continue
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - The water-supply picture for Placer County is growing grimmer. While a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. official has briefed the Placer County Water Agency’s board about conditions that could signal one of the driest years since records have been kept, water providers remain hopeful that precipitation to replenish reservoirs will provide a March – or even April – miracle. Dave Ward, PG&E partnership coordinator, said that as of Thursday, seasonal precipitation across the Sierra Nevada was 42.6 percent of average. Seasonal precipitation is measured between July 1 and June 30. “This year is barely above 1976-77,” Ward said. “If the current pattern continues, it could be the sixth or seventh driest year in 117 years of record-keeping.” PG&E is also currently projecting that less than half of normal runoff will occur on the Yuba River and American River watersheds. As the season continues and warmer weather moves in, there will be less opportunity for snowpack to build up water reserves. But Placer County Water Agency officials are hoping that precipitation patterns will change over the next two months – and if they don’t, they’re expressing confidence there will be enough stored water in upstream reservoirs to meet the demands of treated water and agricultural customers. The PG&E upstream storage totals were bolstered by a happy accident that occurred when water levels were increased while the power provider made repairs this winter, said Mike Nichol, water agency director of field services. Ward said reduced flows through the Bear River Canal to the agency’s foothills system are likely this year if dry conditions persist. But Nichol said that the American River pump station near Auburn could draw water the agency has rights to from that stream to provide for agricultural and treated water needs. “If we had median rainfall from now to the end of the winter, PG&E would make full deliveries to the Nevada Irrigation District and us,” Nichol said. Water Agency Director Alex Ferreira said Friday that the agency may not have surplus water but he’s feeling fairly confident about the coming summer and fall – despite the unusual conditions. “It sounds like we’re going to be able to meet the needs of the district,” Ferreira said. “And we’ve still got some time (for rain to fall). You never know. It looks like we’ve can get by with what we have but if it’s two years in a row – as it was in the mid-1970s – it could be devastation.” At that time, the federal government declared Placer County a disaster area and watering lawns was banned. Nichol said that new rules were put in place after that to ensure that upstream water was stored in an initial drought year to prevent a similar shortage occurring in a second dry season. Director of Customer Service Matt Young informed the water agency board that plans are being made for public outreach meetings as well as coordination with other local agencies and the agricultural community in the event that dry conditions worsen in 2012. Young said the agency will also be providing ongoing information at its website.