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Executive Summary for March 9th

In this weekly roundup, we analyze key water developments around the West, including the latest snowpack information, new regulations on indirect potable reuse and a study finding a century of snow declines across the West.

Published on March 9, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

New Snow Provides Needed Boost

After days of snow in the Sierra Nevada, California’s snowpack jumped 80 percent on Monday. And while it’s a welcome addition, the state is still well below normal for this time of year.

Even after up to eight feet of snow in some places, the statewide snowpack had climbed to only 37 percent of normal by March 5.

This week, the state also conducted its monthly manual snow survey at Philips Station in the northern Sierra Nevada and found the snowpack at 39 percent of normal for March.

“California has unquestionably experienced a dry winter this year, with a near-record dry February,” said Department of Water Resources director Karla Nemeth. “While we’re happy to kick off March with this healthy storm, the variability of this winter’s weather patterns underscores the importance of continued conservation and the ongoing need to strengthen California’s water supply reliability for our people, our economy and our environment.”

Frank Gehrke, chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program, confirmed that recent storms were “not enough to bring the state up to an average year.” The state still has three weeks left before the April 1 snowpack reading, which is usually the peak for the year.

Recycled Water Could Augment Supplies

On Tuesday, California’s State Water Resources Control Board voted to adopt a resolution that would help water agencies expand surface water supplies by adding recycled water to the mix.

For decades, the state has had regulations governing a kind of indirect potable reuse where wastewater is treated to drinking water standards and then put back into aquifers to mix with groundwater and is later pumped back out, treated and incorporated into the regular water supply.

The new regulations, which are several years in the making, would allow for indirect potable reuse that uses reservoirs as holding areas instead of aquifers, and would give water agencies an important new tool in augmenting water supply.

San Francisco Chronicle reports that “San Diego is leading the state in infrastructure to begin carrying out a sewer-to-reservoir operation, but the rest of the state will likely follow.”

Regulations are also expected by 2023 for direct potable reuse where treated wastewater is piped directly into the water system without first being stored in an aquifer or reservoir – something Arizona is on the way to doing soon.

Study Tracks Century of Snowpack Decline

If it feels like there’s just not as much snow as there used to be in the West these days, there’s some scientific truth behind that, a new study confirms.

The report, “Dramatic Declines in Snowpack in the Western U.S.,” published in Nature, found that there’s been a decline of around 30 percent in average snowpack in the West in the last century.

“Declining trends are observed across all months, states and climates, but are largest in spring, in the Pacific states, and in locations with mild winter climate,” the authors found using data from 1,766 sites across the West.

The biggest reason for declining snow levels is warming temperatures, not decreasing precipitation, they found.

“The solution isn’t in infrastructure,” report coauthor Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “New reservoirs could not be built fast enough to offset the loss of snow storage – and we don’t have a lot of capacity left for that kind of storage. It comes down to managing what we have in the best possible ways.”

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