Groundwater, reservoir levels remain at historic lows, but rainwater and flooding should help

Record snowfall and rain helped mitigate the effects of drought in parts of the western United States. US weather forecasters and climate experts warned Thursday that more flooding is expected in some areas as the snow begins to melt.

Winter rainfall has wiped out California’s exceptional and extreme drought for the first time since 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday in a seasonal and national outlook as parts of the state were submerged. Did. Flood warnings have been issued for neighboring Nevada, and he, one of Arizona’s tourist destinations, was forced to evacuate overnight due to flooding.

Elsewhere, NOAA forecasts warn that heavy snowfall this spring will increase the risk of flooding in the upper Midwest, along the Mississippi River from southern Minnesota to Missouri.

Despite the drought receding, experts warn that the long-term effects from stubborn droughts persist, so relief may only be temporary.

Groundwater and reservoir levels remain at historically low levels, although they will take much longer to recover. It can take a year or more for excess moisture to affect the shoreline of Lake Mead, which straddles Arizona and Nevada. It’s also unlikely that water managers would have enough leeway to rewind time on proposals to limit water use.

That’s because a large reservoir and its upstream brother, Lake Powell, on the border of Utah and Arizona, have already been set for release and storage operations later this year. This reservoir is used to supply water from the Colorado River to seven states in the United States and her 40 million people in Mexico.

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Lake Powell could expand by 35 feet over the next three months as snow melts into tributaries and rivers. How much it rises depends on soil moisture levels, future precipitation, temperature, and evaporative loss.

That sounds like a lot of water for one of the nation’s largest reservoirs, but it’s still only three-thirds full, says Paul Miller, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecasting Center. It states that it is only 1.

“While we are definitely moving in the right direction, we are far from filling the reservoirs of the Colorado River system, and we are far from comfortable from a water supply perspective,” Miller said at a NOAA briefing on Thursday.

Federal Forecasters have outlined separate forecasts for temperatures, precipitation and drought over the next three months, with a spring wet season expected to improve drought conditions in the northern and central plains, with dryness disappearing in Florida by the end of June. said it was possible.

On March 13, 2023, floods hit homes in Pajaro, Monterey County, California. Record snowfall and rain eased the drought in the western United States. Reservoirs and groundwater storage levels remain historically low in some parts of the country. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

Overall, the West has been drier than wet for over two decades, and many regions are still feeling the effects. Northern Rocky Mountains and parts of Washington state are likely to experience extended drought through the spring, while areas of extreme to exceptional drought may persist in parts of the southern High Plains.

Oregon’s state of emergency has warned of water shortages and high risk of wildfires in the central part of the state, with some areas of central Utah, southeastern Colorado and eastern New Mexico still open. Coping with extreme drought.

Ranchers in dry states are already planning for another dry year, and some residents are still reeling from the historic wildfire season.

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John Gottschalk, director of operational forecasting at NOAA’s Center for Climate Prediction, said the start of the fire season in the southwestern United States is likely to be delayed.

“But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a very strong season.”

Gottschalk said warmer than average temperatures are expected from New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas to the Gulf Coast and East Coast, as well as Hawaii and northern Alaska. Colder-than-normal temperatures are likely in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and the Great Basin region, he said.

A true standout this winter is the Great Basin, which stretches from the Sierra Nevada to the Wasatch Mountains of Utah. This season we have recorded more snow than the previous two seasons combined. This is notable given that in the past decade, he was the only two years in which snow cover was above the median, in 2017 and his 2019.

“The Lower Colorado Basin is well above all kinds of averages and normals,” says Miller, but not in other western basins.

Tony Caligiuri, president of the conservation group Colorado Open Lands, said all the recent rainfall should not derail the work of recharging groundwater supplies.


“The problem or hazard of these temporary rainy season events is that they can reduce the urgency of addressing long-term issues of water use and water conservation,” he said.

The group is conducting experiments in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, the headwaters of the Rio Grande River. One of North America’s longest rivers, the Rio Grande and its reservoirs are struggling due to little snow cover, prolonged drought, and constant demand. Water dried up in Albuquerque during the summer and managers had no extra water to make up for the current.

Colorado Open Lands reached an agreement with the farmer to clear his land and stop irrigating about 1,000 acres. Caligiuri said the idea was to remove a large straw from the aquifer, which would allow the savings to keep other farms in the district facing the threat of having to close the wells. lose.

“We’ve seen places like the San Luis Valley where years of good years and a year of drought can erase a decade’s worth of progress when it comes to rainfall and snowfall,” he said. said. “So you can’t stick your head in the sand just because you’ve had a wet year.”

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