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Serving: East

Early Pacific and Alaskan storms give hope for wet California winter

Lake Tahoe ski areas received 12 feet of snow over a 13-day span during the holiday season after the storms moved through the state.

The largest snowfall event in 35 years was recorded during the stormy week at Big Bear ski area in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California during the holiday season.

It snowed heavily just before Christmas in Las Vegas for the first time in more than five years.

Ski areas throughout the West experienced one of their best holiday seasons in years. Snowfall amounts over 24-hour periods were recorded in feet rather than inches.

I-80 from the Sacramento area to Reno was closed intermittently during the holiday, and the Grapevine connecting the San Joaquin Valley with Southern California was also closed several times due to snow. Avalanches were reported in mountain areas because of the heavy snow.

A series of December holiday storms does not mean the drought is over, but there is a bit of optimism in the air that this could be a wet winter, despite predictions to the contrary.

Normally, these early storms would give hope for a typical agricultural irrigation water delivery year—whatever that means any more. Growers can no longer hope for a 100 percent contracted delivery in most cases. However, just half of what is contracted for would thrill growers.

However, it could be a very wet winter and not mean growers and cities south of the California Delta can count on getting water. Minnows have first right to the water, according to the courts.

Fish have not been the only reason irrigation water deliveries have fallen off dramatically. California has been in a drought and that has reduced the overall water supply.

If snows continue over the next two to three months to fill reservoirs in the spring, the drought issue could go away.

This would bring up the question of what will happen if there is water in Northern California reservoirs available for delivery and it does not move through the Delta because fish population studies call for reduced pumping?

Can you imagine the fallout from a scenario that has full reservoirs and no water for cities and farmers? Jobs have already been lost and land idled. The losses have amounted to millions.

Growers went into this winter continuing to spend millions to drill wells in anticipation of another short irrigation water season. Some scrambled for financing because, good credit or not, banks were not loaning money due to the water uncertainty.

One very wet year would not bring total relief, but it could ease the strain. However, if there is water available and it is not allowed to flow through the Delta because of a faulty fish ruling, there would be an outcry that would rightfully rattle the dome of the Capitol in Sacramento.

A wet winter and no water for people and agriculture could be the political hammer needed to bring sanity into the fish wars.

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TAGS: Management
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