Following three years of extreme drought, Northern California was met with a drenched opening of the water year. From October through December 2021, portions of the region saw the wettest (and snowiest) early winter on record. After that historic wet season, January through March 2022 was the driest on record. It pushed much of the West Coast back into extreme drought.
From January to March, California saw an average of 1.75 inches of precipitation, a shocking number when looking at the annual precipitation averages. Not only was it the driest January to March stretch in the state’s history, it was nearly half of the second driest period in history. In 2013, the state saw 3.01 inches, and 4.48 inches fell in 2015. Here is the full list of driest winters on record from the California Department of Water Resources:
The historic dry winter is pushing NorCal into what could become a devastating drought during the summer and fall months of 2022. Even with a much-welcomed stretch of April Showers, extreme drought is moving into the minds of residents and politicians alike.
Cities are already outlining plans to decrease water usage by up to 30 percent in order to meet water demands for farmers, wildlife and residents. These plans aren’t without controversy. Residents will be impacted, asked to cut down water usage and do things like paint their lawns.
An urgency change has allowed officials to hold more water in Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville in preparation of the summer season, but that will certainly have a negative impact on the ecosystem of NorCal rivers. It will also surely have a devastating impact on wildlife, especially salmon runs already decimated by drought conditions, water allocations and dams.
“All the technology in the world so far is only delivering to us the best documented extinction of native species,” 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.