Lack of valley gold
January 31, 2014
The water forecast is dire for Northern Nevada.
Minus the precipitation Thursday and possibly today, the water outlook report released by the Natural Resources Conservation Service this month paints a dry picture.
A record drought has hit Northern Nevada from the Sierra Mountains to Elko County. As an attempt to moisten the clouds, the Desert Research Institute in Reno performed cloud seeding Thursday in an attempt to sap every ounce of moisture from Thursday's storm.
Officials from the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation stressed the forecast from the NRCS is before the storm hit. Next month's forecast will include the recent precipitation.
According to BOR Lahontan Basin Area Manager Kenneth Parr, if the NRCS forecast holds, January 2014 may be drier than 38 of the last 44 years. The lowest of the past 44 years was in 1977, he added.
The NRCS' report, meanwhile, detailed the levels of January's first snowpack at 30 percent of normal in western Nevada/Sierra and 50-75 percent in the eastern Nevada.
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"The bottom line is that current snowpacks in western Nevada are near historic low levels," the report read. "It is not likely, given current conditions, that water supply conditions will recuperate to near normal conditions by April."
Soil moisture is also at near-record lows, according to the report, while the state's reservoirs, meanwhile, range from 5-50 percent of capacity and "in general, about half of last year's carryover."
County, Lahontan reservoir impact
Parr and Dan Lahde, a hydrologist for the BOR, detailed current conditions on Thursday.
The BOR reports for northern California, Lake Tahoe and Truckee areas, precipitation is between 25-50 percent of normal. Moving down into Northern Nevada for the Carson and Walker watersheds, the conditions range from 25-150 percent of normal.
"The large areas of the Sierra are below 25 percent of normal," Parr said. "These are early projections that were provided at the annual water users conference in Reno."
Rusty Jardine, project manager for TCID, said the concerns are growing, although he said he is hopeful more rain and snow will come. Nevertheless, allocation numbers for the upcoming irrigation season are a hot topic.
Jardine declined to speculate what the numbers for the Carson and Truckee divisions would be. He said the district is waiting to see how much precipitation falls between February and early March.
"We want to await and see until we have a more definitive picture," Jardine said. "We need much, much more (precipitation). When we have a clearer picture, the board will meet and we will set an allocation."
The district will announce the allocation numbers at its March Board of Directors and annual water users meetings in March. The board meeting is scheduled for March 7, while a date for the water users meeting has not been schedule yet.
Lahde said the allocation numbers are determined by the exceedence forecast, which is the "percentage probability that flow will be exceeded."
As for storage at Lahontan Reservoir, Parr and Lahe said the lake will not reach its capacity this year, while storage capacity at Lake Tahoe is currently at 9 percent.
Using the 50 percent exceedence model, Lahontan Reservoir would reach a peak of 82,600 acre-feet, and 84,000 acre-feet with the 30 percent model.
According to the BOR models, Lahontan Reservoir would hit its 4,000 acre-feet limit from mid-July to mid-November.
"You can see throughout the West it is a dire situation," Lahde said.
How much will the current storm really help?
"It will fill up the reservoirs a little bit," Lahde said. "In the grand scheme of things, the NRCS will include that."
City of Fallon water in good standing
While county residents, especially those in the agricultural industry, are feeling the effects of the drought, city residents will not share several of those concerns, according to city of Fallon Public Works Director Jim Souba.
He said the city's water supply comes from a deep aquifer, the Basalt Aquifer, which is between 400-500 feet deep. The current surface water drought, which has crippled most of Nevada and portions of California, is a result of two below-average winters.
"It's a well protected, stable aquifer, so the surface drought that we are experiencing … now has little influence on the deep-water aquifer," Souba said.
As the water season draws near, Souba said there are currently no plans by the city to limit residents' use through cutbacks or lawn-watering bans.
"We've had several years of drought … but in order to impact a deep-water aquifer it would take a whole bunch more than that," he added.
According to the NRCS report, the Carson River Basin snowpack is at 36 percent of normal compared to 192 percent last year. December's precipitation is at 28 percent, soil moisture is at 15 percent compared to 53 percent one year ago and reservoir storage is at 14 percent of capacity.
In the Truckee River Basin, snowpack is down 171 percent from 191 last year to 20 percent in January. Precipitation is at 18 percent, soil moisture at 14 percent, reservoir storage is at 44 percent and forecasted streamflow volumes are predicted between 13-30 percent of average.
The Lake Tahoe Basin, like everywhere else, is dry. The NRCS reports snowpack is at 34 percent of normal compared to 162 percent last winter. Precipitation is at 30 percent, soil moisture at 33 percent, reservoir storage is at 10 percent and the forecast for streamflow volumes ranges from 15-20 percent.
The Humboldt Basin, meanwhile, has been stuck in drought for years. This year is no different as the water-strapped basin is well below last year's numbers at this time.
According to the report, snowpack is at 54 percent of normal, precipitation is at 49 percent, soil moisture is at 30 percent, reservoir storage is at 3 percent and streamflow forecasts volumes range from 8-29 percent.
California water running out
While Nevada is in a disaster state, cities in California may run out of water. According to the San Jose Mercury News, 17 communities across the state from Mendocino County (north of San Francisco) to Kern County (Bakersfield region) are in danger of running out of water within 60-120 days.
The newspaper reported some wells have already run dry and reservoirs are nearly empty. The systems in those rural areas serve from "39 to 11,000 residents."
As a result, state health officials are in talks with numerous state and federal agencies to discovery immediate solutions.
According to the News, "Less rain fell in 2013 than in any year since California became a state in 1850."
Possible remedies in those counties, according to the News, includes 25 percent rationing, which includes a lawn-watering ban, 10 percent voluntary cutbacks, new pipe connections to other water systems, drilling new wells and possibly desalination.