Floods and Droughts, Cautionary Tales
By: The Infocast Water Team
The five-year drought has California residents hoping for rain and snow, thanking El Nino for the promised precipitation with hope that if every drop of rain and ounce of snow can be gathered and stored, the water can be used to relieve environmental stresses around California brought by the drought.
Manmade reservoirs come with an inherent risk of flooding during periods of high precipitation. “Not a problem” for California’s large reservoirs, one might think, but that isn’t the case. During the winter, reservoirs are required by law to remain around 60 percent capacity.
While an odd notion for a region often dealing with drought, the rule was put in place as a preventative measure against potential flooding. This rule only applies during winter, when high precipitation is most likely to occur, as a way to prevent events like the flooding seen in 1986.
Drew Lessard, a manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, has announced that due to the influx of water, the Folsom Lake reservoir has had to expunge some of its abundance in order to maintain the 60 percent total. Lessard explained to NPR that nearly all reservoirs in the West follow a similar system in order to prevent flooding and that without superior weather prediction models, reservoirs and the communities they serve will continue to deal with the risk of not refilling the reservoirs due to flood preparation. Current prediction models, reaching as far ahead as two weeks but most accurate within the first five days, still boast a margin of error as large as 20 percent.
Shauna Lorance, a manager for a reservoir servicing Sacramento, told NPR recently that releasing excess water while also enforcing water regulation acts proves more difficult than she’d like, especially when explaining the process to Californians. Releasing water tends to help fish and wildlife, but Californians are continually reminded to conserve water in their daily lives
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