Wet weather helps, but not enough to end drought

While last weekend’s wet weather was a welcome reprieve, it wasn’t enough to wash away a statewide drought that is tracking close to the worst one ever in California’s history, said a representative from Glendale’s water supplier on Monday.

And although Glendale’s main water supplier, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, has cobbled together enough water from several sources, including reserves, to get through the 2014 “water year,” which began in October, mandatory conservation measures are a possibility in the future if reserves get too low, Metropolitan engineer Demetri Polyzos told the Glendale Water & Power Commission.

“We did see some benefits from these storms. However, the problem is we’re still below average,” Polyzos said.

Looking at data from the past 80 years, an average rain year will net about 50 inches. As of February, California had accumulated about 4.5 inches. After the recent storms, the count increased to 16.5 inches, according to Metropolitan statistics.

The storms were the first in 14 months to bring more than 5 inches of rain, Polyzos said.

“Even if we have the wettest March, April, May, June, we’re still going to end up below normal,” he said, adding that it was most likely that the 2014 rain tally would hit about 31 inches.

Metropolitan gets its water from many sources, including the Colorado River and Lake Mead in Nevada. The Upper Colorado River Basin remains in the midst of a 14-year drought and, according to expert estimates, there’s a 44% chance that Lake Mead will hit an unprecedented shortage, Polyzos said.

A shortage becomes more probable further into the future, Polyzos said.

With that as a foundation, Metropolitan plans to still cull together 1.8-million acre feet of water this year. An acre foot equals about 326,000 gallons and it takes about 2 acre feet of water to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool.

However, demand from the water district’s 26-member agencies, including Glendale and Burbank — is expected to hit 2-million acre feet. Metropolitan plans to tap nearby storage facilities — mainly the Diamond Valley Lake Reservoir near Hemet — to meet the demand, Polyzos said.

In addition, Metropolitan as well as its member agencies are encouraging customers to voluntarily reduce water by 20%, in line with Gov. Jerry Brown’s request in January. Polyzos said mandatory conservation would only come into play once reserves drop below 1-million acre feet.

Metropolitan ended the 2013 water year in September with 2.4-million acre feet in reserves. Agency officials plan to pull 1.1-million acre feet of that to get through this year — the most it’s ever tapped into reserves. Usually in a dry year, Metropolitan will pull 500,000 acre feet of water from reserves.

“We’re going to end the year above 1 million, but we’re getting close,” Polyzos said. “We have identified supplies to get through 2014. The question is how deep do we go through reserves so that we can manage through another dry year if 2015 proves to be such?”


Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.


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