Recent storms reveal persistence of California’s water supply threat

Jan. 13, 2023
A group led by water agency leaders say that the recent storms in California illustrate the state’s need for greater wet weather collection and flood protection infrastructure.

Solve the Water Crisis, a group led by water agencies’ leaders across California, is saying that recent storms in the state are revealing the extent of its water supply crisis, arguing that drought and the long-term water supply threat will continue.

California continues to battle a series of significant storms, bringing much needed rain to the entire state. Solve the Water Crisis says that the storms, described as “atmospheric rivers,” are another indication of the impact of climate change and the urgent need to adapt the California water system to handle large volumes of water in very short periods of time. Climate change has also caused snow packs to melt earlier in the winter season, making less water available for water allocations in the spring and summer months.

Despite the incredible downpour in January 2023, experts throughout the state are cautioning that the drought is far from over and the long-term water supply crisis will continue. History has proven that a wet start to a new year does not always indicate a wet year to come because the system is incapable of collecting and storing water in wet periods to use in dry periods.

Just last year at this time, “snow depths were reaching 150 percent of normal levels” but then California experienced the driest January, February and March on record, pushing the Golden State into a third year of consecutive drought and going down as the driest three-year period in 1,200 years.

In addition to water storage limitations, the storms may also highlight the need to address flood control deficiencies in the state water system infrastructure to protect against existing and increasing flood risk and damage. While improved infrastructure can’t prevent all flooding, California’s water supply system may need to be redesigned to more effectively protect life and property. Solve the Water Crisis says that recent fire and flood events demonstrate the need for generational infrastructure investments so California can manage these extreme water events, including capturing flood flows and moving them to storage, for use during future dry years.

“While we are encouraged by the recent storm events providing much needed water to our dry state, the significant rainfall is not enough to offset the historic drought conditions that continue to plague California, our economy, businesses, and our communities,” says Craig Miller, general manager of Western Municipal Water District and a leader of Solve the Water Crisis. “The future of this great state is dependent on new policies that require necessary investments that will result in more water for residents, businesses, and the environment.”

With trillion gallons of water expected to fall on California as a result of recent storm events, the group says that it’s more important than ever to assess how the state is capturing and storing this significant amount of rain to use in the future.

“History has proven time and again that we can’t rely on a wet start to a year to pull us out of decades of drought. The significant challenges we face as a result of changing and worsening climate conditions not only require all water managers to work together, but also requires bold action by California’s policymakers to change state water policy and address infrastructure constraints and limitations,” says Heather Dyer, General Manager of San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District and a leader of Solve the Water Crisis. “The failure of the system to properly manage water supply in wet and dry periods requires a comprehensive long-term solution.”