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District 1 Ypdate

Jack Duran
February 2016

Is the drought over?

In years past when I looked at the weather forecast and saw that a series of storms were lined up across the Pacific, I’d get a little glum. Grey, wet days were coming. What a difference a year makes, or four years, to be exact of drought.

After four years of meager precipitation, a healthy rainy season is beginning to quench the region’s thirst for water. While the rain is good news, it is not a license to return to water-wasting habits.

Last year when the governor instituted fairly severe water conservation requirements, Placer County responded with significant savings. I won’t necessarily call them hardships, but our conservation mandates presented challenges.  In my district, people responded appropriately, saving water and meeting and exceeding state requirements, even letting lawns go brown.  However in other areas of the county, conservation presented different challenges. A significant part of the county is rural or forestland. An across-the-board conservation requirement might fly easily in an urban or suburban area, but in other parts of the state that are populated with pastures and animals, that model doesn’t fit.

While everyone was asked to do their part to deal with a multi-year drought, the conservation efforts that resulted in the most attention and press coverage were that of domestic water users. Oddly enough, we consume about 10 percent of California’s developed water. Big agriculture and environmental requirements account for the rest.  While those users were also asked to cut back, it was the domestic users who seemed to be garnering all the headlines.

Regardless, we, both rural and urban residents, met the mandated goals. And I commend the residents of Placer County, District 1 in particular, for their efforts.

My spirits were lifted when I read about some of the impressive rainfall numbers over the last month. In one 24-hour period in December, Lake Tahoe rose close to two inches. That translates to 6.4 billion gallons of water. It’s almost incomprehensible to fathom that much water falling from the sky in a single day. Closer to home, in another 24-hour period, Lake Folsom storage increased by more than 20,000 acre feet. An acre foot is about what a family of four will use in one year.

So where does all this leave us? Even with promising rainfall and snowfall totals, we are still not out of a four-year drought. Consecutive years of almost negligible precipitation have left our reservoirs at unprecedentedly low levels. New water intakes were built in Lake Folsom when the lake’s level fell below the old ones. In western Placer County, we use groundwater, water pumped from aquifers that are sometimes hundreds of feet below the surface. Groundwater is both a primary and supplemental water source. However, when surface water is unavailable or restricted, more groundwater is pumped to the surface to meet demands. When this is done over the course of several years, aquifers can be overdrawn. In Monterey County, aquifers have been overdrawn so much over time for agricultural use that hundreds of feet below the surface, sea water has intruded many miles inland. 

Lake Shasta, the largest reservoir in the state with the ability to hold 4.5 million acre feet, is about 20 percent below its historic average for this time of year. Even with the big increases, Folsom Lake remains at about half its historic average for this time of year. It’s a hot button issue, but in a state with a growing population of more than 40 million and a tenuous water supply, additional water storage is something worthy of further discussion; we can only save so much.   

I urge everyone to remain diligent and continue saving. Just as it has taken four years of drought to deplete reservoirs and aquifers, it will take several years to refill them. It’s good to see lawns greening and parks, landscaping around houses and horticulture thriving.

As always, it is an honor and a privilege to serve you. I always welcome your feedback and can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 916-787-8950.