La Niña signals dry year

Southland residents are being urged to continue water conservation efforts as climatologists predict a dry, La Niña year ahead.

Rainfall last year, 16.63 inches, was just 8% higher than the annual average of 15.1 inches as measured in downtown Los Angeles from July 1, 2009, through this month, said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Rainfall in La Cañada Flintridge, as measured at Descanso Gardens, was 31.72 inches. Rainfall in the foothills is typically twice that in downtown L.A. because of the higher altitude, Patzert said.

"Over the last five winters, we had four below-normal rainfall years," Patzert said. "Last winter we had a much touted and advertised El Niño, but [rainfall] turned out to be just slightly above average."

Now, El Niño is in the rearview mirror, Patzert said. And early data indicate that La Niña — a global weather phenomena characterized by cold equatorial waters, tropical Atlantic storms and less rain in the American Southwest — is building.

"The deck is stacked for a dry winter, as long as this La Niña continues to develop and strengthen," Patzert said.

The slightly wetter-than-average year did build the Sierra Nevada snowpack to a peak water content of 33 inches in April, and statewide reservoir storage increased to 76% of capacity, according to the California Department of Water Resources. The state's largest reservoir, Lake Oroville, collected more than 1.4 million acre feet of water through the winter.

Nevertheless, Lake Oroville is at just 69% of capacity. And the Klamath and Lake Tahoe basins also remain below average. In addition, environmental restrictions in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta limit the amount of water that can be pumped to the Southern California.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California announced in April that it would reduce for the second consecutive year allocations to its 26 member agencies, including Foothill Municipal Water District, which serves eight member agencies in La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta and Pasadena.

"Even though it was a little-bit-above-average year, the reserves here in Southern California have dropped," said Nina Jazmadarian, general manager of the Foothill Municipal Water District. "We are still trying to build up those reserves."

Conservation efforts, including public education, watering restrictions and tiered pay scales, have worked, Jazmadarian said. Last year, FMWD used 12% less than what was allocated by Metro, Jazmadarian said.

La Cañada Flintridge is joining FMWD and its member agencies in encouraging residents to reduce water consumption.

"It is all about using water wisely, it is all about conserving," Mayor Don Voss said. "The reality is with the publicity that water conservation has received, the water companies all report relative decreases in water usage, which is great."

Last year the city established a Water Committee to advise the city on water issues and work in conjunction with water districts.

"One of the things we are working on is developing some short, comprehensive and understandable techniques that people can use to use water more wisely in your house and yard," Voss said. "These are tips the water companies have all been expounding for a couple of years."

Patzert noted that a dry year could be good news for residents in the Station fire burn areas that were evacuated repeatedly last winter due to debris flows.

But with an increasing population and a decreasing supply, the long-term outlook for water supplies in California is bleak, he said.

"From the governor down to local water districts, nobody has declared an end to the drought," Patzert said. "Everybody is fully anticipating decreased water allocation not only at a state level but on a homeowner level."

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