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California Recording its Driest Calendar Year on Record


 Monday Dec. 30, 2013 at Lake Mendocino. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

With California recording its driest Calendar year on record, the level of Lake Mendocino continues to drop. The Sonoma County Water Agency has cut flows in the Russian River by 30% since Tuesday in an effort to preserve dwindling supplies in Lake Mendocino. Currently Lake Mendocino is at a 39% of its capacity. The region is coming out of a record year, with just 7.67 inches of rain falling in the upper reaches of the Russian River, as measured at Ukiah, which usually sees at least 34 inches of rain. 

With no major rain predicted for the early weeks of January, it is reported that the agency is preparing to face a second straight dry year. Without cutting the flows dramatically now, there is a risk of the reservoir effectively running dry next summer should the drought continue. It is reported that Cloverdale City Manager Paul Cayler plans to update the City Council and ask members to approve an ordinance authorizing a system of mandatory water conservation measures later in the month.

Ken Montgomery of the Anderson Valley Nursery reported on the Anderson Valley Advertiser Online said during the past twelve months (calendar year January 1 through December 31, 2013), he recorded 8.5 inches of rainfall at his nursery in Boonville. The 77-year annual average around here is slightly more than 42 inches. That makes 2013 only about 20% of “normal.”

Mr. Montgomery said the driest calendar year for which there are local records turns out to be 1976 with 16.8 inches. There were other really dry years in the mid-1940s and from 1984 to 1992 with rainfall totals ranging from 22 to 30 inches. But without a doubt, 2013 was by far our driest year in a long time at only 50% of 1976 and at 28% to 38% of other “critically dry” years. Monthly rainfall totals from the nearby Caltrans Maintenance Yard outside of Boonville on Hwy 128 dating from 1936-37 and my own daily records since 1978 tell the story. Average September-December rainfall is about 16 inches. The driest year was 1936 with 3.9 inches. A number of other years were also very dry, ranging from 4.5 to 5.5 inches. Incredibly, fall 2013 is only half of that!

Photo: We should be in the midst of our wet season, but CA hasn't had many wet days since October.  #dry #California   Photo: The low levels of Folsom Lake this year have revealed the ruins of an old Gold Rush town that was long hidden. This photo was taken by one of our forecasters.

From the U. S. National Weather Service Facebook Page

The low levels of Folsom Lake this year (pictured above) have revealed the ruins of an old Gold Rush town that was long hidden. This photo was taken by one of their forecasters, January 1, 2014.

Picture taken by Kent Porter/Press Democrat

These are the fish spawning grounds on the lake bed at Lake Pillsbury taken on Monday, December 30, 2013. It is reported that the water level at Lake Pillsbury is less than 13% of capacity. Lake Pillsbury is an artificial lake in the Mendocino National Forest. This lake is created from the waters impounded from the Eel River by Scott Dam. Elevation of Lake Pillsbury is 1,818 feet with a 65 mile shoreline covering over 2,000 acres. 

History: The Eel River Power and Irrigation Company in 1906, contracted with the city of Ukiah for a hydraulic generation station to increase electricity supply for the city. A diversion dam was built to divert water into the Russian River, and a powerhouse was constructed in Potter Valley. By 1908 water was being diverted to the power plant and then to the Russian River. Part two of the project was building the dam which created Lake Pillsbury, located 12 miles upstream. Scott Dam was completed in 1921. It maintains water flow to the hydroelectric plant during the times of low water runoff. PG&E acquired the project in 1933, and maintains the facility today. The Pillsbury hydroelectric plant is the only one in the north coast region of California.

Lake Oroville, November 18, 2013. Picture taken by Bill Husa

The California Department of Water Resources has reported back in November that Lake Oroville was just 39% full, or 63% of average. Lake Shasta is even worse at 37% full. With another dry winter looming, California lawmakers back in November called on Governor Jerry Brown and President Obama to declare a drought emergency and federal disaster in the state. What is clear is that these dry conditions have depleted our reservoirs and reduced carry over storage that historically these low levels have not been seen since 1977. While a drought has not been declared, a dry 2014 could be disastrous with sub-par rainfall.

Snow Water Equivalents (inches)

Provided by the California Cooperative Snow Surveys

California Snow Region Map

Data For: 03-Jan-2014
% Apr 1 Avg. / % Normal for this Date
4% / 10% – Northern Sierra/Trinity
8% / 21% – Central Sierra
10% / 29% – Southern Sierra
Information taken from the Department of Water Resources
California Data Exchange Center
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