With Deeper Snowpack, State Prepares to Ease Drought Conservation Goals

With the Sierra snowpack back to near normal, and some major reservoirs almost full, it is expected that state conservation requirements will be rolled back, officials with the Water Resources Control Board said Wednesday.

"I think we're going to be able to relax them," said Max Gomberg, the board's manager for Climate and Conservation. "We've had a good year. It hasn't been great.  But we've really recovered from where we were a year ago."
Board Chair Felicia Marcus made similar comments to the San Jose Mercury News.
"We are likely to ease the rules or lift the rules," Marcus said.
In response to an executive order from Gov. Jerry Brown a year ago, the water board imposed 
conservation levels on water districts throughout the state. In Los Angeles, the target is currently 16 percent below water consumption during the 2013 baseline year. Fines have been levied on some districts that did not meet their targets.
How much the targets can be relaxed will be discussed at public meetings in April, and likely go before the board for a vote in May, Gomberg said.
The statements by Gomberb and Marcus came on the day California's Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced that statewide, snowpack moisture level  is 87 percent of the historical average, bouncing back from only 5 percent around the same time last year.
Snowpack is significant because snowmelt supplies as much as 30 percent of the state's water, collected and distributed by a network of rivers, reservoirs, and aqueducts.
Unlike the northern half of the state, Southern California had another significantly drier than average winter for the fifth year in a row. Downtown Los Angeles has recorded only 6.57 inches of rain since last October, barely half the 12.38 inches typical by the end of March, according to the National Weather Service. Easing the drought squeeze on the Southland will depend on importing water from the north. 
Word that the state is considering easing conservation goals came on the anniversary of Governor Brown's visit to the snowpack measuring point at Phillips Station, elevation 6,873, in the Sierra Nevada off Highway 50. A year ago spring, the meadow was utterly bare of snow. The Governor
walked through dry dirt and brush. Wednesday, the survey team recorded 58 inches of show, with a water content equivalent to 26 inches of water.
Even more significantly, two major reservoirs, Shasta and Oroville, have reached levels so high, water has had to be released. According to DWR figures, Lake Shasta is at 88 percent of capacity and 109 percent of average for this time of year.  Lake Oroville is at 86 percent of capacity and 113 percent of normal. Both feed the Sacramento River, which empties into San Francisco Bay.  At the delta the river shares with the San Joaquin River,  some of the water is diverted into the California aqueduct to be delivered to the San Joaquin Valley farmbelt and to Southern California.
South of the Tehachapi Mountains, aqueduct water is distributed by the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) which is now scheduled to receive twice as much water as last year, 900,000 acre feet. 
"We may actually be able to replenish some water in our storage, unlike previous years when we've had to pull storage down," said Deven Upadhyay, MWD's Water Resource Manager.
Even if the state were to ease conservation goals, Gomberg would expect prohibitions to remain on such water-wasting practices as hosing down hardscape.  He pointed out that 35 percent of the state remains classified as in most severe drought.
"Don't stop conserving," Gomberg said.
At a news briefing Thursday morning, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will urge Angelenos "to continue water conservation efforts," said Amanda Parsons of the city's Department of Water and Power (DWP).
While the state water project draws on snowmelt from the western side of the Sierra Nevada, the DWP has its own aqueducts on the east side, where the snowpack overall has not been as close to normal, said Marty Adams, DWP Senior Asst. General Manager.
DWP expects to resume delivering water from the eastern Sierra, Adams said, but at lower levels than pre-drought. 
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