California Drought: How Much Are Recent Storms Helping the State’s Water Supply?
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LOS ANGELES — After the driest start to a year on record, California ended 2022 with snow-capped mountains, soggy roads and flood warnings.
The wet weather will continue into 2023, with this week’s bomb cyclone dropping several inches of rain.
So what difference does that make in the ongoing drought in California?
Experts say the wet winter is taking a dip, but there is still a long way to go before the state’s water supply is restored to adequate levels.
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“Rain in California will certainly help, but it won’t alleviate the overall drought in the western United States,” said Lowell Stott, a professor of geosciences at the University of Southern California.
According to Stott, our water resources depend on a consistent seasonal accumulation of snow and ice at high altitudes in the Sierra Nevada.
“In California, we rely on the accumulation of snow and ice at high elevations because we get so little rainfall in the spring and summer. And so we hope to accumulate snow and ice at high altitudes in the winter. And during the spring months, that precipitation in the form of snow begins to melt and the runoff from that melt flows into reservoirs,” Stott said.
Stott says it will take many years of consistent rain to see a difference in the drought, which is why water conservation efforts are still so important.
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A map of California conditions produced by the US Drought Monitor you’ll find here. The last map update, Dec. 29, before the recent storms, showed large parts 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 “extraordinary” and “extreme” drought.
In Los Angeles, water supplies come from multiple sources, including snowfall in the High Sierra — but also direct precipitation capture. Big storms help this aspect.
Steven Frasher, public information officer at Los Angeles County Public Works, says about a third of LA County’s water supply comes from rainwater.
“The big priority in a storm event is to capture as much precipitation as possible,” Frasher said.
“You can almost call it rainwater harvesting. Even with this latest New Year’s weekend storm, the county was able to capture nearly 2 billion gallons of stormwater for groundwater recharge.”
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