January 16, 2018

West Coast Water Supply Is In Good Shape And About to Get Much Better

There has been some recent talk of drought over the West Coast, but in reality water supplies are in good shape and about to get much better, particularly over Oregon and California.

Let's start by checking out reservoir levels.  In Seattle, the current reservoir levels (red) are well above normal (blue).  And there is plenty more rain predicted for the next few weeks.  Looks good.

The Yakima River reservoir system is critical for water supply in Eastern Washington, and as shown below, the current water storage (blue line) is way above normal (red line).

Examining the current storage in the massive California reservoir system (shown below), one notes the all reservoirs are at or above normal levels, except for Lake Oroville, which is being kept artificially low because of the severe damage of last winter.

The current U.S. drought monitors shows do drought from central CA to Washington, and dry (but not drought) conditions over southern CA and a few locations in Oregon.
Considering the precipitation departure from normal for the past 3 months, one notes wetter than normal conditions from Washington State into Montana, and slightly below normal in eastern Oregon, Nevada, and parts of California.  But modestly drier than normal conditions have occurred over northern CA and coastal Oregon.   This is about to change.

The latest weather forecast model runs indicate a very wet future from central CA to British Columbia.  The 15-day totals from the National Weather Service GFS model has 5-10 inches over much of the Coasts, with 10-15 inches over the Sierra Nevada and the coastal mountains of northern CA and southern Oregon.

And all this precipitation will include immense snowfalls over many of the West Coast mountains, with over four feet over the higher Sierra Nevada, and 3 feet over the Oregon and WA Cascades.

To put it another way, we are starting today with reservoirs in good shape, generally with above-normal levels from northern CA to Washington.  Heavy precipitation will erase much of the modest deficits of the early winter, resulting in near normal precipitation values for the winter season so far.

And considering that we have a moderate La Nina in place, the precipitation will probably be heavier than normal for much of the remaining winter from central CA to the Pacific Northwest.  This is suggested by a composite of winter (Nov.-March) precipitation for a moderate La Nina year (like this year).

The bottom line:  the water resource outlook is favorable for the upcoming winter and summer.


  1. Out of curiosity, was anyone really concerned about the water supply? I mean, during a "La Nina" last year, California (which should not get the rain they got last year by the way) filled the majority of their reservoirs in one season! Heck, within 4 months! Nothing to see here of course.

    Look around the world folks, climate is shifting and the Sun drives the weather of our planet, and the Sun is in constant flux, hence so is climate. The idea that climate is some stagnant thing that we can depend on for eons of time is rubbish. The coming years will see more flux as our climate alters, and no, the CO2 you breathe out isn't responsible for this, nor is the vehicle you drive.

    Should we use hemp, water or other things to power vehicles or what have you? Of course we should, but using petrol to run the car isn't altering weather and quite frankly, it's quite arrogant of people to believe they affect the weather at all. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

  2. Couldn’t of said it better myself.

  3. Thanks Cliff. I read all your posts and I appreciate that you write, quite often, about Northern CA where I live. You've been spot on with winter predictions for many years now. I am trying to learn more about climate/weather with books, blogs etc. Your articles really help me out with my understanding of the vast complexity of all this. The last comment by "J" is right on. The Sun drives weather as well. Taxing CO2 is such a joke in CA. We need to handle environmental degradation,etc. ( Like Jim Steele writes about) but not chase the elusive co2.

  4. The actual snowpack water equivalent doesn't look quite so rosy for anywhere south of Columbia river. Reseviors are thankfully full, but they can't get any fuller. Its all about snowpack from here on in.


  5. Just think if the proposed damns back in the 70's had been built, many of CA's drought issues could have been alleviated due to the incredible population increases since then. The Army Corp. of Engineers called it as they saw it, but the CA politicos not only ignored their advice, they compounded it by wasting taxpayer monies on the High Speed Train to Nowhere, instead of doing due diligence on at least maintaining proper infrastructure upgrades regarding the existing damns. When another sparse water year occurs, the problems they experienced recently will only be compounded.

  6. Why does one graph use blue for normal and red for year-to-date, whole the other graph has red for normal and blue for year-to-date. I smell a secret message.

  7. J - I think you should take over for Cliff. You seem to be very knowledgeable and so completely certain of yourself about so many subjects. I'm really impressed. But just one thing about the Sun.. isn't the Sun a city somewhere in Nebraska?

  8. "Reservoirs are thankfully full, but they can't get any fuller. Its all about snowpack from here on in."

    Meaning what Bruce? We went through 2015 with a non-existent snowpack and, as Cliff noted then, came through it with minimal water resource impact. What matters with water supply are precip and reservoirs, Cliff has been pointing this out with data and facts for years http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2015/10/did-pacific-northwest-pass-global.html

    But it doesn't stop the media or the activists from talking about it, spreading fear, or smearing those who point out the truth. Want more? http://crosscut.com/2015/05/what-drought-washington-meteorologist-cliff-mass-vs-nearly-everyone/ And how about that, Cliff ended up being right and not one media outlet or agency claiming "the climate deck may be stacked against us" or "nature seems upside down" came out and admitted they were wrong. http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2015/09/drought-in-2016-for-washington-state.html

    Hey Cliff, remember the “wet drought”? http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2015/12/wet-drought.html

    I may not be able to predict the weather next year but this one I can predict with certainty: every year, between November and February, we will hear there is going to be a drought. A week of sunshine in December? Drought. High pressure ridge? Drought. Look at that snowpack, it’s not 100% of normal. Drought. It’s pouring outside? It’s a wet drought. It’s always about fear, and it’s always loud, and it happens every… single… year.

    Why is that?

  9. Sorry -- off topic, but parts of Port Angeles, especially east side, had a significant wind event around lunchtime today. Temp shot up to 56. Pretty sure we were over 50 mph in gusts, all over the compass; trees down and some power lines; sound 4" branches broken. There was not a peep of warning in the NWS forecast. Coast, yes; Admiralty Inlet, yes; nothing here. Rather disappointing...

  10. I find it amusing that people suggest we can’t alter the atmosphere in any meaningful way with our lifestyle. yet we can devastate the oceans and terrestrial environments vastly. One is just more visible with larger impacts over the short term.

  11. Sorry J
    Need to take issue with....

    " but using petrol to run the car isn't altering weather"

    Geological history as I personally interpret it.... The earth was warm with a high CO2 atmosphere when the primordial swamps flourished. Those primordial swamps are today's hydrocarbons. If we release that carbon today we again warm the atmosphere, until the CO2 is captured again in plant growth.

    It's a closed loop system. That CO2 was likely from active volcanic eruption of early Earth.

    It is quite possible new critters emerge from our CO2 rich/acidic oceans in the millennial to come, just as the have in past CO2 rich atmospheric conditions of past geological cycles.

    Burn earth's sequestered carbon, and you warm the atmosphere. Pretty basic accepted science... ((At least in my humble opinion. (Which should preface any and all of our opinions..))

  12. I mean what i said. Once the reservoirs are full its not like you can just keep collecting water and flood control usually requires some controlled purging. Even if you could keep collecting, it can't supply water to ecologies above that elevation. Resevior content just doesn't tell the whole story of winter precip retention. Did you look at the Snotel map? Not all the signals are thumbs up. Relax a bit and don't read anything more than that into it. Like Cliff said, so far so good for Washington anyway but reserve judgement on water supply until after winter.

  13. i love how a year or two ago, CM was saying that the drought monitor was garbage and not indicative of actual conditions. now it's truth. hmmm.

    what is lost in this notion that our reservoirs are ahead of normal and we'll be fine, is that our reservoirs are being filled by even bigger reservoirs well into june/july/aug most years because of snowpack. if the snowpack sucks or is non-existent, and we have yet another hot, dry summer, let me know how your reservoir looks then.

  14. iron....I am not saying that drought monitor is rigorous...and they tend to hype drought...but even it doesn't show a problem...that is my point. The key point is that one or two major storms should erase any precipitation and snow deficit this winter, and the reservoirs are in excellent shape...cliff

  15. "... is that our reservoirs are being filled by even bigger reservoirs well into june/july/aug most years because of snowpack. if the snowpack sucks or is non-existent, and we have yet another hot, dry summer, let me know how your reservoir looks then."

    That is completely untrue, and you state it like it is fact.

    We (Washington) just had exactly what you said. In 2015. No snowpack and a dry summer. But we did have full reservoirs. And SPU finished the water year (9/30/15) 10 billion gallons above the "low reservoir" mark (another 10 billion gallons), and were never close to a crisis. And then they filled back up in about a month as it poured in October.

    Again, I am going to link to the blog post that clearly reviews this: http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2015/10/did-pacific-northwest-pass-global.html

    Please, look at the graphs at SPU here - https://www.seattle.gov/util/cs/groups/public/@spu/@water/documents/webcontent/spu01_005041.pdf
    The blue line is average snowpack. Tell me, how much snowpack exists in the SPU watershed after July 1 in an avg year? The answer is zero.

    No one is talking about the city holding ponds or water tanks. We are talking about reservoirs and watersheds like Chester Morse and Tolt, the "bigger reservoirs." Name one reservoir in Washington being filled in August by an "even bigger reservoir".

    Bruce - this is what I am talking about.

  16. Reservoir data is nice...

    Bigger picture is mother earth's natural storage systems. Yes snow pack is on our "radar".. But what about the immense natural aquifers being low???

    They are what count for countless farmers/growers in the west and around the world.

    Water rights and wars are make and break for small farmers.

    IMHO, pay close attention to aquifer levels, those are our are true measures of water usage and sustainability.!

  17. Organic Farmer - you make my earlier point about the lack of any new reservoir construction over the past four decades. If there had been more storage capacity,aquifers would have been relatively untouched in times of extreme drought.

  18. A part of me says "absolutely build more reservoirs. We absolutely need the water, even more in the future."

    But then my better half remembers seeing a beautiful canyon in Colorado that I loved flooded and lost forever under a reservoir. And now I've seen the way the valley of the Elwha is coming back after the dam removal. Beautiful.

    Dams are always going to have both good and damning qualities. Pun intended.

    The real issue should be how we can reduce our need for water in the future to be able to live with a smaller natural supply. Agriculture can be much more efficient regarding water consumption, as can people in their homes and pretty much everywhere else.

    Conservation and efficiency are generally far less expensive to society and damaging to the environment than developing new sources, whether we're talking water or power.

  19. As others have mentioned, this post seems more true for Washington than the "West Coast." California needs far more than one or two major storms to get close to normal snowpack, with nothing really like that forecast. https://cdec.water.ca.gov/snowapp/sweq.action

  20. To Richard's comment about the un-forecasted and significant winds in Port Angeles the other day, my experience as a mariner who has crossed Juan de Fuca in a small boat many dozens of times in all seasons, says that this is not unusual.

    The wise boater who sees evidence of winds rising from the west on the Strait, often as a distant surface or cloud disturbance before the winds reach them, should not be reassured by a benign weather forecast. If the wind is rising quickly, or things look weird on the western horizon, then its time to either batten down or run for shelter or take other heavy weather precautions.

    Which is why crossings in slow boats (I had a trawler-type yacht that cruised at 7 knots) can be "interesting" given you can't run from it very well. But then, my boat could take a licking and keep on ticking. A capable boat and proper preparation will get you through, but not always in comfort.

    My experience is that SE winds (our "storm" winds) are usually well forecasted, and it's easier to find shelter from them, but unexpected strong westerlies are what are often un-forecasted. A big westerly and an ebb tide is an ugly, UGLY combination given there are fewer places to hide. You're essentially stuck in the gun barrel. Wind against tide creates steep, dangerous waves, especially in the middle of the Strait.

    Juan de Fuca has an evil reputation among mariners for good reason. The unreliable marine forecasts are the biggest part of this. Watch all the buoy reports in real time, watch the clouds and the western horizon, and assume that winds rising more rapidly than forecasted means something un-forecasted is about to happen. Don't wait for it to get bad. React immediately.

  21. John Marshall - of course I agree with your points regarding additional conservation measures, but the reality of enormous population increases coupled with no new damn building usually ends up as a very bad stew. Towards your lament about dams ruining once - pristine rivers, I also sadly agree - but if we go in the other direction then most if the Southwest, Inter Mountain and all of CA should be depopulated. When the settlers first came out to those regions, they were shocked to find few indigenous natives. Why? Little to no fresh water resources existed.

  22. Well stated Eric Blair. You get to the Crux of the dilemma for for our species unchecked growth, let alone factoring in potential future climate changes.

    California has already had quite the extinction event with the loss or reduction of many fish species that used to run in unharnessed rivers.

    The ability for our species to think through the up coming challenges without emotional greed, will influence the brevity of the current extinction event underway.

    Our species is not so good at comprehending geological time. Possibly our mistakes, and our corrections to mistakes are only blips in the larger picture.


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