Last Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 marked the first day of water year 2017. Like our fiscal year, the water year does not coincide with the traditional calendar year. Instead, it is defined as the 12-month period starting on Oct. 1 and ending on Sept. 30.
Climatologist have not predicted a weather phenomenon such as El Niño or La Niña, which means forecasters have little knowledge of whether we will have a wet or a dry winter. Precipitation in California varies across the state’s desert and mountainous regions, but the bulk of it falls during the cooler months from October through April. The state’s average precipitation is about 20 inches.
Last water year, we received some much needed winter storms, bringing slightly above average precipitation to Northern California. But the southern part of the state still ran dry. Also, as a result of record warm temperatures, we received more rain than snow, affecting our state’s water supply. Snow in the Sierra Nevada is a crucial source of water, supplying the state’s major reservoirs and providing about one third of our state’s drinking water.
Before the anticipated “Godzilla” El Niño failed to deliver expectations last winter, we knew very well that one year of rain would not erase four years of drought. In turn, we witnessed a fifth year of drought. According to a report by the Department of Water Resources, the last four water years of rain in California have only amounted to a total of 62.2 inches. With an annual 20 inch average, that means a deficit of 18 inches. This is the driest period on record for the state.
As we enter water year 2017 uncertain about the amount of precipitation we will receive, there is one thing we do know: water conservation needs to be a way of life. Now in the sixth year of a historical drought, there is no telling how long it will stretch.
Santa Clara County continues to be a leader in water conservation. In June the Santa Clara Valley Water District board of directors called for a 20 percent water use reduction compared to water use levels in 2013. Residents and businesses have continued last year’s conservation efforts and have saved 28 percent from January to August 2016. The community has done an excellent job in preserving our most precious resource.
This winter we may get drenching storms, or we may see a few light rain events. Whatever the outcome, we must continue to value our water supplies and make conservation part of our daily routine. Start this fall by dialing back on your watering or considering take a VOW to implement a new water saving technique into your schedule.
To read more on water year 2016, check out a brief report from the Department of Water Resources.