By Gavin J. Quinton
Outlook Valley Sun
La Cañada Flintridge, along with the rest of the state, is seeing significant relief from extreme drought conditions as a result of what the National Weather Service has called a “seemingly never-ending parade” of powerful atmospheric storms this winter. Much of California is no longer considered to be under drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, while several key reservoirs were recharged by recent precipitation.
Trillions of gallons have drenched California since the start of 2023. Last week, a series of irregular winter storms came down over the region, covering LCF in 9.29 inches of rainfall, the second highest amount among Southland cities, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. From October to March 8, LCF has received more than 33 inches of rain, far exceeding the season average of 21 inches.
As of Feb. 28, about 17% of the state had retreated from drought conditions completely — a first since the beginning of the drought in 2020. At the end of last year, more than a third of the state was experiencing “extreme drought” conditions, compared to 0% today. An additional 34% of the state have partially staved off drought, including LCF and most of Los Angeles County, which were under severe drought all of last year but now are classified as “abnormally dry.”
On Jan. 26, state officials announced a dramatic increase in water deliveries from the State Aqueduct. Southern California communities will now receive a 35% allocation from the State Water Project, which imports ground water from Northern California. The figure is up from 5% last year, the sharpest jump in allocation ever.
Recent storms have more than doubled key water reserves like Lake Oroville, which sat at under one million acre-feet of water in December: 27% of its capacity. This year, Lake Oroville saw an increase of an additional 1.5 million acre-feet, according to Demetri Polyzos, manager of resource planning with the Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to the county.
One acre-foot, or the equivalent of a football field flooded with one foot of water, can supply a year’s worth of water to three Southern California homes.
“We really rely on imported water supplies in Southern California. It is very challenging when the health of those supplies are in dire straits. We’re very happy to have the State Water Project in a more healthy situation,” Polyzos told the Outlook Valley Sun.
Metropolitan Water District, which supplies water to La Cañada, imports 25% of its supply from the State Water Project. Another 30% comes from the Colorado River, which is still on the brink of disaster. Climate change and widespread overuse of the vital water source — which is split between several southwestern states — caused it to dip below historic lows last year, and it has yet to recover.
Now, more than ever, conservation efforts and water storage could be vital in keeping supply from the Colorado river stable. Failing to do so could mean that the lakes at the source of the river system could reach “dead pool” in the coming years, meaning that water levels would be too low to feed the flow of the river.
“Over the last few years, there was a lot of uncertainty on what our water supplies would be going forward. We’re definitely acknowledging that conditions have improved, but that’s just on one side of our system, our other side is not doing so well,” Polyzos said. “Now is the time to do as much as we can to store as much water as we can.”
Closer to home, the Sierra Nevada Mountains have significantly replenished snowpack, another key water supply resource. Slow melting of snowpack creates runoff that feeds the water supply throughout the year. The mountain range was measured recently at 192% of its normal snowpack levels, approaching all-time highs.
But those hopeful figures could be threatened by another front of warm rains set to make landfall this month, which could rapidly melt the snow and lead to heavy runoff. The combination of rainwater and runoff has a chance of overwhelming water systems and experts warn of a risk of flash-flooding.
“There is a possibility of mid-March storms coming in and melting the snowpack too quickly. If that happens, we’re going to be challenged with managing all this water,” Polyzos said. “The State Water Project and the Central Valley Project that manage those large reservoirs are looking into minimizing the risk of flood. We just need things to kind of slowly melt like they’re supposed to.”
LCF residents can expect at least one more storm, likely sometime between March 10 and March 16, according to the National Weather Service.
First published in the March 9 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.