2021 has been a year of surprises—one of those being a flash drought. California snowpack peaked at 70% of average, but record heat waves dropped that to nearly zero within six weeks. The heat also contributed to just 22% of the projected runoff actually making it into reservoirs.
Now the Department of Water Resources has scrapped its old approach of relying on 80-year historical precipitation averages and is instead planning for the worst-case scenario. The department aims to maintain enough water into next year to meet basic human needs and protect imperiled fish and wildlife.
For the Department of Fish and Wildlife, this means a heightened focus on maintaining cool temperatures for fish survival and giving migratory species enough “freedom to run,” according to Director Chuck Bonham.
Yet several environmental groups called for much more. Doug Obegi of the Natural Resources Defense Council said the priority should be curtailing diversions to farmers before enacting protections for the environment. He also called for preserving 3.5 million acre-feet of water in Shasta Lake next year to maintain adequate cold water pools.
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Thad Bettner, who manages the Glenn Colusa Irrigation District, pushed back on comments that Sacramento Valley water contractors caused this year’s low storage. Bettner said numerous decisions have impacted Shasta Lake. He pointed out that farmers took voluntary actions to reduce diversions, including more groundwater pumping—which the same organizations also sued over.