The water year in Northern California has been truly abysmal and the signs are becoming more obvious everyday. Water levels are becoming desperately low. Wildfires are already popping up in rural areas. And the snow in the Sierra is, well, nearly non-existent.
The snow has already disappeared for the most part in the high-elevation areas around Lake Tahoe, forcing the California Department of Water Resources to cancel their final snow survey of the year. There’s no use in measuring something that doesn’t currently exist.
The fourth and final survey would have told us what we already know – California is on the verge of a severe drought. Having just lived through the third worst precipitation year on record, the typical impacts of major drought will begin to show their ugly face as we move into the summer months. Low water levels and dangerous wildfire conditions will likely be big news in Northern California in 2021.
As the drought becomes top of mind for all California residents, the stat senate has proposed a $3.4 billion proposal designed to mitigate the impacts of the dry year. The proposal, which is more money then was spent during the entire five year drought from 2012 to 2016, will work on short-term projects like buying back water from farmers so it can be returned to local waterways, protecting native fish species and trucking emergency water into cisterns for small communities. None of the proposed money will go to long-term projects, like Sites Reservoir.
â€œWeâ€™ve been working with them to identify noncontroversial early action projects that will assist now â€” not six months from now, not a year or two or three years from now,â€ said Danny Merkley, director of water resources for the California Farm Bureau, to the Associated Press.
But no plan is without controversy. According to fish conservationists in the state, this drought could spell the end for some native fish species like the delta smelt.
â€œAll the technology in the world so far is only delivering to us the best documented extinction of native species,â€ said John McManus, president of the Golden State Salmon Association.
The underlying impact of the current drought, which is likely not to be felt for 4-6 months, is wildfires. Following three devastating wildfire seasons, the drought could once again send communities fleeing from deadly flames moving through NorCal. The six largest fires in California’s recorded history happened in the past three years. For the survivors of those fires, wildfire mitigation should be a top priority for the state.