The rainy winter has been good for reservoir levels and surface water supplies, but a number of important factors remain unknown before authorities are willing to declare an end to the statewide drought.
These factors include San Benito County’s pending allocation of imported water from the Central Valley Project; groundwater levels; and the Sierra snowpack, according to San Benito County Water District Water Conservation Program Manager Shawn O. Novack. Local authorities should have a better understanding of how these factors will affect water supplies after the rainy season is over.
As of Jan. 17, Hernandez Reservoir in southern San Benito County was completely full—at 18,000 acre feet of capacity—and flowing over its spillway, Novack noted.
“This is really good because water released from this reservoir makes its way down the San Benito River,” Novack told this newspaper. “This helps recharge the groundwater basin where Sunnyslope County Water District, City of Hollister and City of San Juan Bautista have wells located within recharge areas of the river.”
That’s crucial because groundwater levels have dropped since the drought started more than three years ago. The San Benito water district’s annual Groundwater Assessment, published in December, notes that more water has been pumped from the aquifer as the drought has continued, resulting in “short-term groundwater decline.”
In normal times, the county typically also receives an allocation of imported water from the state’s CVP. In March 2022, however, the county found out it would be getting no water from the CVP for the year, and won’t know until the spring if it will get an allocation for 2023.
“Everyone in the Hollister-San Juan groundwater basin benefits from the imported water because the purchased water helps balance the overall water needs in the basin, is superior in quality to groundwater pumped from local aquifers and is more conducive to crop growth and vastly improves our drinking water,” Novack said.
And the Sierra snowpack—another key source of drinking water recharge in California—remains uncertain. Although snow levels are at 247% of normal this week, that could melt away if the rest of the winter is dry and warm, Novack explained.
The U.S. Drought Monitor website last week moved San Benito County out of the “Extreme” drought category, and reclassified the northern portion of the county as “Moderate” and the southern portion as “Severe.” Almost all counties in California have seen a similar downgrading of drought conditions in recent weeks.
But, as Novack noted, that “means we’re still not out of drought.”
“As far as water conservation goes, we need to conserve water at all times. Not just during droughts,” Novack added. “We don’t know when this drought will end and when the next will start. Besides, we use a lot of energy to pump water locally and statewide. It costs money to store and treat this water too. By conserving water we can cut down on all of these costs and resources and be prepared for the next drought.”